The government, on Friday, presented a series of measures to make it easier for third-country nationals to get work permits, attempting to address labor shortages.

Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou met with the heads of top employers’ organisations in Cyprus, Keve (the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce), and Oev (The Industrialist and Employers Federation).

Both Keve chief Marios Tsiakkis and Oev head Michalis Antoniou had previously raised concerns about severe labour shortages in Cyprus and had filed requests with the ministry to address the issue.

In statements after the meeting at the ministry, Panayiotou said, “Important steps have already been taken and more are planned to be implemented.”

He added that the meeting confirmed a consensus on the needs of the labor market in line with the growth of the economy.

Panayiotou said that Oev and Keve were informed in detail about the statistics and figures and expressed confidence that “with the cooperation of Oev and Keve, the business community, and the social partners, we will manage together to respond effectively to the challenges and to further strengthen the Cypriot economy for the collective good of our country.”

“It is important for all stakeholders to work together to better regulate the labor market so that, along with the rational entry of third-country nationals, it becomes more attractive for Cypriots and other European workers,” he said.

On the measures that have either been launched or have started to be implemented, the minister said that “the time taken to process applications for work permits for third-country nationals has been reduced compared to the corresponding periods in previous years, with a view to rapidly achieving the target of completing the processing of applications within one month of their submission.”

He also said that the internal application management process is being streamlined to address bureaucracy through updating the relevant forms submitted and simplifying the accompanying data.

“The start of the submission of applications for third-country national work permits for the hotel industry has been brought forward by three months, and applications have started to be submitted and examined from December 1, 2023, instead of March, as was previously the case,” he said.

In addition, Panayiotou said that a procedure for pre-approval of work permits for the replacement of asylum seekers within the prescribed limits is planned to be implemented for timely filling of the vacancies created to limit the staffing gaps that arise.

He added that the government is looking into allowing third-country nationals studying in Cyprus to work here.

He also mentioned that the conclusion of bilateral agreements with third countries on the arrival of workers in a transnational framework is underway, which will allow the development of more effective staffing, while the process for the creation of a digital platform for the electronic submission and management of applications for work permits for third-country nationals has been launched.

According to the minister, the Aliens Branch of the Labour Department has been reorganised with the strengthening of staffing and supervision mechanisms and with an emphasis on the centralised management of applications for work permits for third-country nationals, to respond more effectively to the management of labour market needs.

He added that upgraded possibilities for automated information of employers on changes in the residence status of asylum seekers are put in place to avoid registering them as employers or continuing their employment after rejection of their application for international protection, as well as to avoid employment in occupations to which they do not have access or during the period when the prescribed period of nine months has not been completed.

According to the minister, an updated catalogue of jobs open to third-country nationals will be made public in January.

In statements after the meeting, Antoniou said that there is good cooperation and added that the responsibility of employers’ organisations to prescribe the size of the needs is a long-standing process that is being carried out in a “convincing manner.”

He said that the planning was done many years ago and adjustments were needed, which the minister has shown can be adopted as they arise.

Antoniou said that the demographic problem creates reflexive problems in the labor market, and the participation of pure Cypriots in the market is decreasing.

“The only solution is to meet these needs with workers from third countries,” he said, referring to the need to implement decisions quickly.

Asked about the number of workers needed by the labour market and in which sectors, Keve’s Tsiakkis said that the exact numbers are not easy to determine, but there are certainly great needs in the hotel industry, which starts operating in April 2024. He added that these needs may reach 10,000 to 12,000.

Tsiakkis said that the ministry has been accepting applications since this month and has been reviewing them, and approvals have been given for some of them. He also said that too many people are needed in retail, but also in restaurants and perhaps fewer positions in the construction sector.

“There are needs across the economy, both unskilled and skilled,” he said.