Northern Ireland should have control of immigration following Brexit so that business can respond to the need for labour in certain sectors, it has been claimed.
Delegates at a breakfast hosted by business advisers KPMG and Ulster Business — a sister publication of the Belfast Telegraph — heard that job applications from EU workers could take up to 57 months to process in a post-Brexit world.
But David Gavaghan, chairman of the CBI, said it was his view that Northern Ireland should negotiate so that it could take control of key areas of immigration.
That could mean it could respond to the needs of sectors of the economy, such as agri-food, which require access to a large volume of workers from the EU and beyond.
“Clearly a discussion is taking place on immigration and a new paper is to be published, but we need to ask are there arrangements to manage the administrative burden of that here?
“That would enable us to respond in a prompt way.”
Key sectors in the economy were dependent on a flow of EU workers, he said, with agri-food, healthcare and hospitality the most reliant.
But he said that with the present absence of a devolved government, “obviously there are challenges” in obtaining further responsibilities for any Executive.
And he said the contribution of EU nationals — and workers from around the globe — to the success of the economy should be recognised.
Mr Gavaghan, who runs the Aurora Prime Real Estate Fund, said he had been in touch with the two main parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, over the need to restore devolution.
But he told yesterday’s event that clarity was required on Brexit.
“Until we have clarity then there is a worry. We need to get behind the details,” Mr Gavaghan added.
He said the fall in sterling since the EU referendum had brought a positive impact on tourism, but that he wished to look forward.
“We need much more clarity as to what road we are going down,” he said.
“What does Brexit mean? We need more certainty and more understanding, otherwise companies will just have to take decisions, looking at various options and based on their judgment.”
He said his view was that there should not be a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“I would much rather not see the border return,” he said.
“We have done so well over the last period of time to take the border away from our lives.
“Were it to be reimposed, we should recognise that’s not a good thing.”