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Government urged to consider impact of migration target on Scotland's growth

11 July 2018

The Scottish Affairs Committee highlights the benefits of migration and its importance to Scotland's future in its latest report on Immigration and Scotland.

The report emphasises the critical need for Scotland to continue to be able to welcome people from overseas as workers, residents, and members of society, noting that all of Scotland's future population growth is dependent on inward migration. The Report examines Scotland's immigration needs, the lessons that can be learned from the current immigration system, and the impact of Brexit on EU citizens already residing in Scotland. It also considers how to attract international students, meet the demand for agricultural labour and the options for increasing Scottish influence on UK-wide immigration policy.

Scotland's immigration needs

Inward migration has made a vital contribution to the economy and society of Scotland, as well as the demographic challenges that it faces. The Committee calls upon the UK Government to review its stated target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands; given the considerable implications it has for future economic and population growth.

Lessons from the current immigration system for non-EU nationals

The report criticises the current Tier 2 system's cost and bureaucracy and find that its particularly difficult for SMEs to use. The Committee welcome the removal of doctors and nurses from the visa cap, but calls for further action to ensure that any future cap does not disproportionately benefit London and the South East at the expense of the rest of the UK.

The report questions whether the current shortage occupation list for Scotland is meeting Scotland's needed highlighting the limited number of additional roles on the Scottish list, and difficulties experienced by some sectors of the Scottish economy in getting the shortages they experience reflected on the list.

On the immigration skills charge currently in place, the report recommends that its effectiveness be reviewed before deciding whether to include a similar charge in the post-Brexit immigration framework, and recommends that jobs where the Government already acknowledges there is a shortage should be exempted from the charge.

EU migration and the impact of Brexit

The report cites evidence from witnesses that continuing uncertainty over the status of EU citizens resident in the UK is causing employees and employers alike considerable difficulties and distress, and calls on both Governments to work together to ensure the settled status application process is clearly communication to all those affected. 

In terms of the post-Brexit system for recruiting non-UK workers, the report argues that this must be user-friendly for Scottish small businesses, and that the current points-based system would require a considerable overhaul if it were to adequately replace freedom of movement. More nuanced ways if deciding what counts as a "skilled job" are urgently required rather than simply focusing on salary level and qualification requirements.

The report also covers the specific issue of seasonal agriculture workers, recommending that a new scheme, developed in consultation with Scotland's agricultural sector, be introduced without delay.

International students

The report argues that Scotland's higher education sector, and the ability to welcome new talent into the labour market and wider society that it creates. The Committee concludes that student numbers should be removed from the net migration target and calls on the Government to assess the options for a Scotland-specific post-study work visa schemes, in the absence of a UK wide scheme.

Increasing Scottish influence on immigration policy

The Committee considers how well Scottish needs are current reflected in the UK immigration system and recommends that the Government commission a review of all options for increased regional differentiation, particularly for Scotland, in the UK immigration system. This should set out the impact any differentiation would have on businesses, local employment and communities.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart commented:

"This inquiry was launched with a number of aims: to examine Scotland's immigration needs and to what extent they are met by the current immigration framework; to seek ideas from business and other experts about what improvements could be made; and most urgently, to explore how Scotland's needs can be met post-Brexit.

On all these vital matters our inquiry has raised serious concerns. The current visa system for non-EU worker is complicated and bureaucratic and the way the current net migration target is enforced benefits London to the expense of the rest of the country. Scotland's future population growth is entirely dependent on continued inward migration and it appears that Scotland's needs are not being fully met under the current system.

Our report makes practical, evidence-based policy recommendations such as introducing a work visa for agricultural workers and removing students from the immigration statistics that if implemented, will go a considerable way towards safeguarding Scotland's future labour needs and ensuring it remains a thriving, diverse society. Nobody wants to see a return to the dark days of population decline and economic stagnation.

Our cross-party consensus that these are the best measures for Scotland should not only emphasise the importance of this issue, but also the need for similarly co-ordinated action on the part of both the UK and Scottish Governments."

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