Founders: Immigration and Relocation to Ireland

Israeli Start Up Founders: Irish Immigration and Relocation Options

Regardless of Brexit, Ireland remains a committed, outward-looking EU member and one which is particularly supportive of innovation and foreign investment. Over here, it’s business as usual.

  • Ireland remains one of the most open economies in the world and is consistently ranked as one of the best countries in the world to do business in.
  • With a growth rate of around 6.5% in 2018, it has the fastest growing economy in the European Union.
  • Ireland’s young, English-speaking and highly educated workforce, combined with a straightforward corporate immigration regime for non-EEA nationals, means it’s little surprise that so many companies have set up their European HQ teams in Dublin.

So, if you are an entrepreneur who is not a citizen of the European Economic Area, how is it to relocate your business to Ireland? In this blog, we set out some of the main options available for business owners and investors.

Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) – Entrepreneur Route

The CSEP is a type of employment permission designed to enable Irish companies to hire certain highly-qualified non-EEA nationals through sponsoring their immigration status. This employment permission depends on the existence of a suitable job offer. Though primarily designed for employees, this route can also be used by business owners and founders – provided that they establish an Irish company, take up employment with this company themselves and satisfy a number of strict criteria along the way!

This route has some significant advantages, particularly over a General Employment Permit:

  • There is no need to conduct a labour market needs test;
  • CSEP holders may, after only two years, apply for Stamp 4 permission – allowing them to live and work in Ireland without an employment permit;
  • Certain immediate family members can join immediately (and have the right to work as well).

The main disadvantages are:

  • the permission is conditional on fairly high minimum salary levels (annual salaries of €60,000 or more, unless the occupation is on the Highly Skilled Occupations List, in which case the annual salary must be €30,000 or more); 
  • The job offered by the Irish company cannot be one of the certain ineligible job categories
  • “50/50 Rule” – in Ireland, all employment permits are subject to a rule that employers, who wish to hire non-EEA nationals on an employment permit, must show that at least 50% of their employees are EEA nationals. For a non-EEA national business owner, this means at least one other EEA person must be employed by the company. 
  • Risk – this option is neither cheap nor straightforward – e.g., it requires the company to hire an EEA staff member prior to the founder’s own application – and there is, of course, no guarantee that the permission will be granted.

The Start-up Entrepreneur Programme (STEP)

The STEP programme is an innovative and relatively straightforward way for small business owners in the start-up space to gain the right to live in Ireland and establish their business. There are two key requirements: the first is that you have secured funding of at least €50,000 for the proposed start-up – this might be in the form of self-funding, a business loan or investment from a business angel or Venture Capital funding (VC). The second requirement is that your business can be considered a High Potential Start-up (HPSU).

An HPSU is a company which is:

  • Introducing a new or innovative product or service to international markets.
  • Capable of creating 10 jobs in Ireland and realising €1 million in sales within three to four years of starting up.
  • Led by an experienced management team.
  • Headquartered and controlled in Ireland.
  • Less than six years old.

The Competitive Start Fund for International Entrepreneurs

Enterprise Ireland is the Irish State agency responsible for funding and supporting companies of all sizes and it funds dozens of small and mid-sized companies annually. Of particular interest to foreign business owners is the dedicated CSF for international entrepreneurs, aimed at start-ups that are currently based overseas but are willing to relocate to Ireland. The competition offers a €50k investment for a 10% equity stake in the start-up and successful applicants from outside the EU will then be eligible to apply for a STEP visa for themselves and their families. Applications are made by way of an online application form and a video pitch. Selected applicants will then be invited to travel to Ireland to make a short investment pitch to the judges (Enterprise Ireland will cover travel and accommodation costs). Of these, up to 10 companies will be awarded CSF funding by Enterprise Ireland.

Not an entrepreneur yet?

In recent years, Dublin has seen an explosion in tech incubators, accelerators and mentorship schemes designed to transform good ideas and promising talents into thriving start-ups and successful entrepreneurs.

A fantastic resource is Tech Ireland – a database of innovative companies, investors, tech hubs, incubators and accelerators in Ireland. The initiative, run by a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to to promote Irish and Ireland based innovation to the world through data, content and community activities – was itself modelled on, and created with the assistance of Israel’s very own Start Up Nation Central database.

Non-EEA citizens taking part in specialist startup schemes and ‘bootcamp’ initiatives may be eligible for a 12 month immigration permission, which will allow them to participate in the incubator and prepare and submit a STEP application. This visa is particularly useful for those who have yet to secure adequate funding for a full STEP application. Once in Ireland, non-EEA entrepreneurs will be able to apply for funding from a wealth of Irish state agencies and local VCs.