6,000 work permits for foreigners in first six months

The influx of foreign workers shows no sign of abating with 3,000 work permits issued in June alone as industry’s demand for labour remains high • Joseph Muscat in Q&A session with business leaders

Industry is resorting to foreign workers to placate shortages in the labour market
Industry is resorting to foreign workers to placate shortages in the labour market

Work permits for foreigners issued last month equalled the number of permits handed out in the preceding five months, Joseph Muscat has told business leaders.

The Prime Minister said 3,000 work permits to foreigners were issued in June alone after a review of the system improved efficiency.

Muscat was speaking during a question and answer session with members of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on Friday morning. The media was invited only for the introductory speeches.

He said 3,000 work permits for foreigners were issued between January and May, bringing the total to 6,000 in the first half of the year.

Muscat said the influx of foreign workers in Malta was a positive sign but it had to be properly managed. “We will not erect walls but build bridges.”

Muscat said the government had to tread a fine line between improving efficiency to respond to industry’s higher demand for labour and the European Commission’s concerns over a more liberal visa-granting regime.

“We need to ensure that all security checks are made because this is not an issue that only concerns Malta but the rest of the EU,” Muscat said, acknowledging industry’s complaints over bottlenecks to employ foreigners.

The review to streamline bureaucracy is expected to continue with the creation of an online platform that can be used by applicants abroad to apply for a work permit, Muscat added.

“We are also targeting a system that responds to queries within 24 hours,” the prime minister said.

Muscat pledged to continue leading a pro-business government, which was also interested in improving the conditions of workers.

“Our restlessness to change things will not cease,” he promised business leaders.

Before him, Chamber President Frank Farrugia listed a number of issues the business community wanted to raise, including the high electricity tariffs charged to the commercial sector.

Farrugia said that the 25% reduction in electricity rates for businesses in 2015 was a welcome move but insisted the rates in Malta were still higher than those of European competitors.

He also listed traffic congestion, waste management and the abuse of the free movement of goods principle as other concerns.

Farrugia said business leaders also had questions about plans to introduce carers leave and the issue of compensating public holidays that fall on weekends.

Another problem the manufacturing sector was facing, he added, was the lack of factory space, which may necessitate the construction if multi-storey factories.

Farrugia said the format to hold such a session behind closed doors was a more effective approach because it enabled the discussion to take place away from the media glare.