Mr Wilson said preference should be given to people from Northern Ireland
Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has said firms should give jobs to locals ahead of foreign nationals in the current economic downturn.
He said it made sense to give preference to people "with roots here".
"A lot of people moved in because of opportunities that there were," said Mr Wilson, who is also a DUP MP.
Bob Collins, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said "you simply can't give preference to somebody on the basis of their national identity."
He added: "You can't restrict applications for positions on the basis of a preferred national identity. The law is crystal clear."
The DUP minister, speaking on The Politics Show, continued: "I think you've got to be very careful when you talk in those terms because people always accuse you of being racist and xenophobic.
"However, when it comes to a downturn, I think if jobs are becoming vacant and you've got people with equal skills, and can do the job, etc., then I think preference should be given to people from Northern Ireland."
Eva Grosman, who publishes a Polish magazine for Northern Ireland, said politicians should be focusing on addressing the economic difficulties instead of trying to discriminate against migrant workers.
"Any discrimination is not good, especially during this time of difficulties and hardship for everybody," she said.
"Would the hardship experienced by a person born in Northern Ireland be any different to those born outside?"