The Home Office’s proposed skills criteria and salary threshold for overseas workers will “decimate” Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector, the industry said.
Those classified as “unskilled” and those earning below £25,600 will no longer be allowed to work there.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “Employees with soft skills (classified as ‘unskilled’) are a vital element of the success of the Northern Ireland hospitality and tourism offer, however, they have been ignored.
“What sort of message does that send out to the world?”
Northern Ireland’s wages are relatively low compared to the rest of the UK.
Mr Neill added: “The Home Office’s proposed skills criteria and salary threshold for workers from overseas will simply decimate the local hospitality sector.
“There has been failure to take into consideration the unique set of circumstances here; complete ignorance of the importance of our sector in particular; and demonstrates absolute contempt for our position.”
The hospitality industry has over 30,000 job vacancies to fill by 2024 and needs 2,000 chefs.
Mr Neill said: “With a declining birth rate and near full employment in Northern Ireland, these proposals will damage our economy and limit plans to grow the tourism economy to a £2 billion industry.”
The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry also expressed misgivings.
Shortages of staff
Head of policy Christopher Morrow said: “Policies need to make the UK an optimal locational choice for skilled people but also to ensure that Northern Ireland is placed on an equal footing to take advantage of the top talent available internationally to help develop and grow our economy.
“Unfortunately with this policy, only some sectors will be able to cope, and others such as hospitality, tourism and healthcare will struggle due to shortages of staff and full employment here.
“With no route for low skilled temporary employment and no time for businesses to adapt, the speed and scale of these changes will require significant adjustment by businesses and have implications for a region where access to skills and low productivity are already serious concerns.”
Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said the UK points-based system ignored the contribution and rights of migrants.
He said: “These proposals fail to recognise that many people come to Northern Ireland without the privileges of wealth and higher education, yet make a huge contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and wider society.
“What we need instead are proposals which respect the basic human rights that are affected by the immigration system here, including rights of family life and people’s need for safety, security and stability.
“We can and must do better.”