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Can Scotland Have a Different Immigration System to rUK?

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Migration to Scotland (National Records of Scotland)

Recently published statistics show that Scotland’s population has increased slightly to 5,404,700, however, this is mainly due to immigration. With such a low population density Scotland has the room and indeed needs people.

With the UK exiting the EU and with that the free movement of people it has drawn into sharp focus the different needs of Scotland to other parts of the UK when it comes to immigration.

The UK Government retains control over immigration. The current Points Based System (PBS) acknowledges the occupational needs of Scotland through a Scottish-only Shortage Occupation List (SOL) for tier 2 migrants.  The Scottish Government, however, does not see this as sufficient to deal with Scotland’s economic needs.

A recent report from Dr Eve Hepburn and commissioned by a cross party committee of the Scottish Parliament (CTEER) has looked at ways Scotland could have a differentiated immigration system to that of the rest of the UK. It looked at 4 case studies in Australia, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. It went on to further explore 7 case studies in  ‘sub states’  (which is what Scotland is in terms of the UK) including the State of South Australia (Australia); the Provinces of Quebec and Prince Edward Island (PEI) (Canada); the Canton of Vaud (Switzerland); the Autonomous Communities of Catalonia and the Basque Country (Spain); with an additional case study on the Åland Islands federacy in Finland.

There are many systems in use and several possibilities exist in how Scotland could have a different immigration policy to the other parts of the UK whilst still remaining within it.

The Convener of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, Joan McAlpine MSP, said:

“This report shows that there are sensible and straightforward ways for us to secure a bespoke system of immigration that addresses the specific needs of Scotland, even while the UK Government takes a different approach. Dr Hepburn’s detailed research demonstrates there are successful examples all over the world of how different immigration policies can exist within a single state.”

And Lewis MacDonald MSP, Deputy Convener said:

“It is widely acknowledged that Scotland has an ageing population and we need a strong migrant workforce to support key sectors of our economy. Joint working between the UK and Scottish Governments are a key theme in this report. I would encourage the Scottish and UK Governments to work together in examining these proposals.”

The ageing population of Scotland will be a significant problem for the long term prosperity of the economy.

“recent estimates put the number of EU nationals currently in employment in Scotland at 115,000. This constitutes 4% of the total Scottish workforce. EU nationals are concentrated in the following industries in Scotland (in descending order): distribution, hotels and restaurants (33,000); public administration, education and health (19,000); banking and finance (18,000); manufacturing (16,000) and transport and communication (8,000).” 

Although these tend to be low skilled jobs the majority of migrants who make Scotland their home are found to be skilled, well educated (to degree level) and economically active.

The Scottish Government is in favour of:

  • the re-introduction of a post study work route
  • the possibility of a system of ‘regional visas’ for non-UK nationals
  • a differentiated immigration system that allows Scotland to identify and address its own specific population challenges
  • different immigration arrangements in different parts of the UK, while ensuring free movement within the UK

The success of any differentiated immigration policy for Scotland would rely on a good working relationship between the Scottish Government and that of the UK. It would also require to be funded by Scotland. The report presents 20 different scenarios of immigration schemes that are currently in use in countries with comparable democratic systems. It concludes with this crucial statement:

“Future reductions of EU nationals to Scotland is likely to have a detrimental effect on Scotland’s economy, as other reports have shown. Given that UK policy decisions should have ‘no detriment’ to Scotland’s fiscal capacity, there is a pressing need to find agreement on ensuring future EU migration flows to Scotland in order to maintain its economic and demographic growth.”

Scotland’s population statistics show that  only 17% of the population is under 16 and that the largest increase is in the 75+ age group which has grown by 31%. Encouraging people who are young and active to settle in Scotland will be extremely important if we wish to provide our nation with the public services it has come to expect.

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Migration to Scotland from rUK (National Records of Scotland)

The immigration figures for Scotland actually show that more migrants came to Scotland from rUK, 46,300 than from anywhere else, 40,400. People who choose to make their home in Scotland are contributing significantly to our economy.

The picture is not the same across Scotland indicating that within our nation we have a problem with depopulation in many regions, with the lowest change being in Na h-Eilean Siar .

Scotland population 2016 001

Variations in Scotland’s population changes (National Records of Scotland)

It is important that local authorities are able to sustain a vibrant population and to encourage families to remain and move to all parts of Scotland.

Immigration will be a key issue for the future prosperity of Scotland. Will the UK Government be prepared to countenance a differentiated system to exist within the devolved nations? The current attitude of the Tory Government would suggest not.

The report by Dr Eve Hepburn shows that differentiated systems for immigration are possible and workable.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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