Proposals for a separate UK Visa for Scotland have been described as ‘risky’ by a newly-published report.
The plans involve abandoning employer sponsorship and the need for an annual salary threshold. Westminster has already rejected the proposals.
Carried about by Reform Scotland in association with the Scottish Policy Foundation, the study states that Scotland would have to ‘confidently identify other criteria that would predict successful settlement, as the international experience is clear about the importance of employment for successful outcomes’.
According to the report, a serious debate needs to take place regarding how Scotland responds to projected population decline and in particular, a working-age population that is too small to meet the needs of the labour market.
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Heather McCauley, a former senior civil servant with the Scottish government and former adviser to the government in New Zealand, examined the regional immigration systems in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US to assess how Scotland could craft an approach suited to its unique demographic characteristics.
According to Ms McCauley: “The programs examined have – on balance – been beneficial, but the benefits are often small.”
If current levels of inward migration remain the same, the size of Scotland’s working-age population should remain stable for the next quarter of a century, according to McCauley. Were current migration levels to fall however, it could shrink by around 12 percent.
In McCauley’s view, ‘regionally differentiated policies are feasible’, but particularly in peripheral areas that are bereft of working-age inhabitants. The case for regional differentiation across an entire devolved nation is ‘less strong’.
“Clearly, there are particular sectors, occupations and salary levels where requirements and conditions are different to those in the UK as a whole (or the South East in particular).
This, however, argues for occupational or sector-specific policies rather than a lower bar for entry across the board. Any differential policy for Scotland that provided on-going settlement rights would have implications for the wider UK, particularly if it involved a lower bar for entry.”
Back door entry
McCauley also raised concerns regarding the risk of ‘back door entry’ were a Scottish Visa to be introduced. These concerns are particularly prevalent given the government’s focus on controlling the level of inward migration, concerns that will likely act as a barrier to regional differentiation.
“Irrespective of Scotland’s constitutional future, its demographics mean that it needs to enter a serious debate about how it responds to projected population decline. Growing the population as a goal in itself, or as a means to economic prosperity, is problematic, even if it were to be feasible.”
“Maintaining population size, and particularly boosting the size and strength of the working-age population, can be supported by immigration, but only in the short term. Other policies to support adjustment to a different age distribution will be much more important.”
McCauley also pointed out that while it is easy to perceive immigration as a ‘fix-all’ solution to Scotland’s demographic concerns, policymakers must be realistic about how much it will actually solve.
“In considering their strategy and policy, the Scottish government and the opposition parties should consider the full range of costs and benefits for the people of Scotland as well as potential migrants themselves.
They should focus primarily on retaining and upskilling their existing population as well as addressing the root causes of challenges such as depopulation in remote and rural areas.”
Chris Deerin, director of Reform Scotland, had this to say:
“Reform Scotland believes in immigration for economic, demographic and cultural reasons – as has been said, ‘Scotland is not full up’.
A healthy level of immigration can improve our nation in welcome and diverse ways. Heather McCauley’s report gives a fascinating insight into what has worked and what hasn’t in other countries, and it’s important that the Scottish government absorbs her findings when setting future policy.”
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