By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - TikTok will increase its number of employees in Ireland to 1,100 by early 2021 from just 20 in January, the Chinese-owned video app said on Wednesday, a pace of expansion Ireland's foreign investment agency said was one of the fastest on record.
TikTok said its senior executive team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa is now based in Dublin, overseeing privacy and data protection for Europe. The 900 people currently employed in Ireland represent almost half of TikTok's 2,000 European staff.
The move comes as President Donald Trump and other American lawmakers have said TikTok is a national security risk and called for the divestment of the service in the United States, an order ByteDance filed an appeal over late on Tuesday.
The video app, owned by China's ByteDance, also announced in August that it will set up its first European data centre in Ireland, where tech giants such as Google <GOOGL.O>, Facebook <FB.O> and Apple <AAPL.O> have their European headquarters, benefiting from a low corporate tax rate of 12.5%.
"This is probably one of the fastest (expansions) we have undoubtedly seen and they have done this in the midst of a global pandemic. That's quite an achievement," IDA Ireland chief executive Martin Shanahan told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Foreign companies directly accounted for around one in 10 jobs in Ireland at the end of 2019 before some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in Europe left 20% of all workers temporarily or permanently unemployed at the end of October.
Shanahan said in July that the pandemic would exert downward pressure on job creation, increase job losses and that managing to hold onto the same number of foreign direct investment (FDI) posts at the end of 2020 would be a very good result.
He said on Wednesday that the agency has had "a reasonably solid few months" since then, highlighted by the announcement of almost 800 jobs last week by five technology, financial and pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer <PFE.N>..
The pipeline of future investments is also reasonable, he added, but difficult to advance owing to COVID-19 restrictions. Shanahan also expects FDI job losses to be only slightly up this year compared to 2019, owing to the relatively small number of FDI firms connected to tourism, travel, retail and hospitality.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)