Non-EU health workers protest over lower salaries preventing them reuniting with families

About 1,000 staff recruited to Ireland to work as healthcare assistants under work permit scheme in 2021 on pay of €27,000

Some 100 healthcare workers, mainly from India and the Philippines, gathered outside Leinster House on Tuesday in protest over employment conditions that prevent them from reuniting with their families.

About 1,000 non-EU workers were recruited to Ireland to work as healthcare assistants (HAs) under a general work permit scheme in June 2021. The framework agreed between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Health stipulates that the salary for this cohort, a vast majority of them in the private sector, is €27,000 annually.

The minimum salary required to apply for a visa for a spouse to come to Ireland is €30,000 and to bring one child in addition to this is €33,000. The salary threshold is higher to bring two children or more.

“Because of this, workers who came to Ireland since June 2021 are separated from their spouses and children,” Varghese Joy, chair of the Migrant Nurses Ireland said.


“It’s a very basic salary. Working in a healthcare environment is already stressful by its nature, but then they can’t find a house, even if they find one, they can’t afford it, and they’re without their family. It’s a very unfortunate situation,” he said.

“We didn’t come to the Dáil straight away to protest. First, we made representations through TDs, and brought it to the Minister, and still no decision has been made, so we decided to come out and stand here today,” Mr Joy said.

Shiji Joseph, who has worked as a healthcare assistant in Ireland for one year now, said her family, including two children, her husband, and parents in law, are back home in India.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Joseph said she originally believed she would be able to bring her family to Ireland after one year of work.

“We thought it would be okay for one year and then we hoped to be together. But now we are heartbroken. I am happy caring for people here but without family we are nothing,” she said.

Many healthcare workers from outside the EU were living in dire conditions due to their salaries, she said: “We are sharing rooms and even sharing beds. There is no space even to cry”.

“I don’t know how long I can be here like this. If my husband was able to be here, he could work and earn too and we could move into a house. It’s painful waiting for our rights.”

Former Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said she was helping the workers organise the protest because “they’re essential workers and I think they’re being treated in a very exploitative and cruel way by the Government’s permit system”.

“A lot of them are women and parents, trying to communicate with their kids over time zones through WhatsApp. They’re looking after our elderly and infirm yet they’re being treated in such a cruel way. There’s a review going on so that’s why we’re putting pressure on today,” she said.

Healthcare assistants in the UK, Australia and New Zealand who are recruited from India are able to bring their family with them.

The majority of spouses of the healthcare assistants are also qualified nurses or other healthcare workers and allowing them to come to Ireland would be “helpful to address the shortage of healthcare workers in Ireland,” Mr Joy said.

A review has been opened and the Migrant Nurses group is calling to be granted family visa status for non-EU healthcare workers by increasing their salary on par with pay in the HSE.

Another option, but “much less preferable,” Joy said, is to decrease the income threshold to bring a family to Ireland, from €30,000 to €27,000.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times