Immigration “will be in a much better place than it is” after Brexit, says VisitScotland official

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 30 December 2017 in News

Charlie Smith, director of marketing and digital at VisitScotland, said there is a good chance Scotland will still be able to attract the skills the technology sector needs

Image credit: PA

A top official in the Scottish Government’s tourism body has said he is optimistic that immigration “will be in a much better place than it is” if Brexit goes ahead.

Charlie Smith, director of marketing and digital at VisitScotland, said there is a good chance Scotland will still be able to attract the skills the technology sector needs.

The official was speaking at a seminar to discuss Scotland’s potential as a tech hub of the future, sponsored by Holyrood magazine and tech firm Leidos.

Tech entrepreneur Ian Ritchie also told the seminar that the UK Government’s plan to introduce a visa system for skilled workers “will be great” if it is implemented successfully.

However, he said the current uncertainty over the future of immigration is causing consternation amongst tech businesses that rely on EU workers.

Alan Alexander, general secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said immigration curbs could inhibit Scottish tech development.

He said: “The end of the post study visa is probably the daftest decision that any government has ever made, not to mention the general effect of Brexit.

“The need for more academic staff could be impacted really fundamentally by Brexit if the government doesn’t find a way of resiling from its total opposition to free movement of labour."

Smith said: “I am a bit more optimistic about what powers will be repatriated, especially when it comes to migration, I think we will be in a much better place than it is, I think there is a good chance.

“But I guess the necessity now is to make Scotland a more attractive destination for the kind of talent that we are talking about.”

In a statement released after the seminar, Smith said: “In my personal opinion, if Brexit happens I am hopeful that we will get more control over migration in Scotland.

“We need to keep attracting increasing numbers of people to work, visit, study and live here to help grow our economy.

“With the right controls over immigration in Scotland, I am personally optimistic we can continue to attract the talent and skills the sector really needs.

“If we do not have that right to welcome increasing amounts of talent and skills it is a real threat to labour in the tech sector and beyond.”

Ritchie warned of a “threat to skills from immigration” but also sounded a cautious note of optimism.

He said: “Number 10 and BIS are making noises about a much improved visa system so that it should be easy to get really high skilled people into the country. If that happens that will be great but we will have to see.

“Certainly at the moment we’re all scared about Brexit closing off opportunities, but if that happened that will be good.”

Tommy Laughlin, public sector liaison at digital technology trade association ScotlandIS, said: “We are about to potentially lose a significant source of relatively easy to acquire skills if we end up leaving Europe, and I think that needs to be seriously addressed.”

Dr Craig MacDonald, of the Glasgow University school of computing science, said: “Around a third of our students are here because they are getting a free education, because they’re from other parts of Europe. It’s a huge risk and it keeps our head of school up at night.”

Over a third of Glasgow University’s computing science students are from other parts of the EU, compared 13 percent in the university as a whole, he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The UK Government’s Brexit plans, outside the single market, threaten to do huge damage to Scotland’s economy and society, costing jobs, harming investment and cutting living standards.

“There is widespread business and expert backing for that view, and the Scottish Government will continue to make the case for remaining in the single market – and for immigration power to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”

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