In recent weeks the government has ramped up its efforts to restrict travel to and from Ireland to curb the spread of COVID-19 and have now put several travel restrictions on a statutory footing.
It is a fast-moving area with new and updated regulations being implemented on an almost daily basis. In addition, proposed restrictions are constantly being reported in the media and government advice, which does not have the force of statutory regulation, is regularly published and updated. It is fair to say that it is difficult to keep up.
Travelling to Ireland
So, what is the current situation for Irish employers who wish to bring individuals to work in Ireland, whether on a short-term or long-term basis?
The current advice from the Irish government is that no one, irrespective of nationality, should travel to Ireland unless for essential reasons. As has always been the case, immigration officers at border control can use their discretion to permit or refuse a traveller entry to Ireland.
The government has not defined an “essential” reason. Therefore, employers must interpret this themselves and where they need someone to travel to Ireland, determine on a case by case basis if the travel is essential. When making that determination, an employer must consider multiple factors, such as the role to be undertaken, the urgency of travel, and ultimately if the role can be undertaken remotely outside Ireland, or postponed, until such a time as restrictions ease.
Currently no Irish visas are being issued (either short-stay or long-stay) unless for essential work, but if an individual already holds a valid Irish visa, they will be subject to the same scrutiny on entry to Ireland as any other non-visa required traveller.
We advise that anyone travelling to Ireland for work should carry evidence in the form of a robust support letter from their employer outlining the essential nature of the travel. Additionally, we recommend they carry their employment contract and employment permit (if applicable), as well as COVID test documentation and normal travel documents (passport and visa).
Requirement to Quarantine and COVID Tests
Stephen Donnelly, the Irish Health Minister, recently introduced regulations that make mandatory quarantine and Covid testing before travel to Ireland a legal requirement (Regulations). These Regulations apply to everyone travelling to Ireland. The Regulations came into effect on midnight 5 February 2021 and are in place until 5 March 2021 but could be extended.
The Regulations provide that travellers to Ireland must provide evidence that they have been tested for COVID-19. This means that any individuals travelling to Ireland will have to undergo an RT-PCR test (a “COVID test“) no more than 72 hours before travelling to Ireland and must carry documentation confirming a negative result.
Travellers are also obliged to self-quarantine for 14 days from when they arrive in Ireland, except where they are an exempted traveller. “Exempted travellers” is very narrowly defined and most individuals coming to Ireland are unlikely to come within the definition.
A person who is quarantining may only leave their quarantine location for such period as is strictly necessary to undertake specific activities. These activities include:
- emergency travel to protect a person’s health or welfare;
- to obtain a COVID test;
- to travel to an airport or port to leave the country; and
- for the purposes of carrying out essential repair, maintenance, construction or safety assurance of critical infrastructure or services.
The obligation to quarantine ceases to apply to travellers from most countries where they obtain a negative result from a COVID test taken five days or later after the date they arrive in Ireland. However, there is a growing subset of travellers who must complete the entire 14 days of quarantine without the option to cease quarantining following a second negative COVID test. This obligation originally applied just to travellers coming from South Africa and Brazil but has now expanded to apply to those coming from the UAE, Austria and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Specific obligations exist for companies involved in bringing people to Ireland. A company must:
- inform the relevant individuals of their obligations under the Regulations;
- check if the individuals have had a negative COVID test result; and
- refuse to organise or facilitate the travel of the individuals to Ireland where they have not, to the satisfaction of the company, demonstrated that they have a negative COVID test result.
We advise all employers to consider on a case by case basis whether it is essential for workers to travel to Ireland at present. If it is, the employer should advise the relevant travellers in relation to their pre-travel Covid testing and quarantine obligations and provide them with a support letter to facilitate their arrival.
New, more stringent, regulations relating to travel restrictions are being mooted and employers should keep up to date with their legal obligations. For further guidance or more information please contact the William Fry employment and corporate immigration team.