Skilled migrant visas should be available for much lower salaries in Northern Ireland after Brexit because of the low-wage economy, a business leader said.
Ann McGregor said the minimum salary to obtain a work permit should be set at around £23,000 rather than the £30,000 proposed by the Government.
The ending of free movement from Europe is a key part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal.
Post-Brexit trade talks would be expected to discuss a replacement migration regime.
Ms McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said: “Given the magnitude of the recruitment difficulties faced by firms, business concerns about the Government’s blueprint for future migration rules must be taken seriously – and companies must be able to access skills at all levels without heavy costs or bureaucracy.”
She said business leaders in other parts of the UK, like Newcastle upon Tyne, had also expressed concern that the £30,000 earnings requirement for skilled migrants seeking five-year UK visas was too high.
The traders’ representative also said many firms were stockpiling goods in warehouses in Northern Ireland and England ahead of the exit, producing increased storage costs.
The Northern Ireland Chamber, which represents businesses in the country’s SME-dominated economy, said around half its members believed Brexit had created higher costs.
In the final three months of last year a third felt the EU withdrawal had negatively impacted on the employment of non-nationals.
That’s compared to just 5% harbouring the same concern immediately after the vote took place in 2016.
Ms McGregor said: “With little clarity on the trading conditions they will face in just two months’ time, some companies are understandably holding back on investment plans and making big decisions about their futures.
“The Government’s absolute priority now must be to provide clarity on conditions in the near term and avoid a messy and disorderly Brexit – and action must also be taken to get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running again.”
Costs, sales, and exports have also been affected by the EU divorce and the effects have gradually become more pronounced as time has gone on, the Chamber’s survey showed.
A third of businesses are putting growth and investment plans on hold.
Almost a fifth have expanded investment plans outside Northern Ireland.
In general the picture is one of stasis, economists said.
Business adviser Brian Murphy from BDO likened it to firms holding their breath until matters become clearer.
He said: “We are seeing caution from many businesses who are holding off on major investment decisions until they gain clarity around issues including Brexit and the future of any new Executive.”
He said exchange rates, with the strong euro inflating the cost of supplies from the Eurozone, continued to be an area of concern for many businesses and some were under pressure to raise prices.