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‘A Scottish Visa’: Nicola Sturgeon releases post-Brexit migration plans

Image credit: Scottish Government

‘A Scottish Visa’: Nicola Sturgeon releases post-Brexit migration plans

The Scottish Government has announced its proposal for “a Scottish Visa” as an additional option alongside other UK visas post-Brexit, offering a pathway to permanent settlement in Scotland with no salary threshold, nor a sponsorship role for employers.

While immigration powers are currently reserved, the Scottish Government’s latest proposal would see responsibility for immigration policy “split” between the Scottish and UK Governments.

The proposal was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh on Monday morning.

“Migration is an issue which is crucial for our future, but the Scottish Government doesn’t currently have the powers needed to deliver tailored immigration policies for Scotland,” she said.

“Devolving immigration powers by introducing a Scottish Visa would allow Scotland to attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish.”

The policy has been designed to “work with devolution” but could also be adapted should Scotland become independent in future, the Scottish Government said.

However, the Home Office has rejected the proposal, saying “immigration will remain a reserved matter”.

“The UK Government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland,” a Home Office spokesperson told Holyrood.

“We want to understand the specific needs of the whole of the UK, which is why we have engaged extensively with stakeholders across the UK, including the Scottish Government.”

The UK Government is expected to release its own policy statement in the coming days, setting out a new framework for immigration following Brexit, including an Australian-style points-based system.

Sturgeon said migration to Scotland would support the country’s economic growth, delivery of public services and help address long-term demographic changes. She said the UK Government’s latest proposals, to control immigration and end freedom of movement, “would be disastrous for our economy and society and would risk acute labour shortages”.

The Scottish Government has released a policy paper on the migration proposal. Under one model, the government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, would “define the criteria for the new visa, receive and assess applications and then nominate successful candidates to the UK Government”.

The UK Government would then “verify the identity of applicants and make relevant security checks before issuing a visa to successful applicants”, the paper stated.

Migrants wanting to live in Scotland could choose to apply for a Scottish Visa, or one of the existing immigration routes offered by the UK Government.

The paper stated the Scottish Visa would have several key features, including “eligibility criteria set according to needs identified in Scotland, clear rules leading to greater certainty”; “no sponsorship role” for employers; no salary threshold; an online application process with pathways to permanent settlement in Scotland; and the visa would “not be liable to Immigration Skills Charge, as currently defined by UK Government”.

Residence in Scotland and maintaining a Scottish tax code would be a requirement for such a visa.

The paper also suggests the Scottish Government “influences changes” to the UK Government’s immigration arrangements, including: extending youth mobility visa schemes to the UK for an additional year if the young people live in Scotland during that time; employer-sponsored visas should have a lower-salary threshold; family migration should be reviewed; and the 12-month transitional visa be extended to 24 months with a permanent option for EU citizens.

The Scottish Government proposed to commission the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population to consider “what a pilot approach to migration in remote areas would need to achieve in order to benefit Scotland’s rural and island communities”.

Scottish Labour culture, tourism and external affairs spokesperson Claire Baker said the party “supports exploring a degree of flexibility within an overarching UK immigration system”.

“Scotland faces particular demographic challenges, and we need a compassionate, fair immigration system that supports our economy, public services and all our people,” Baker said, adding: “We look forward to seeing the detail of the government’s proposals.”

The Federation of Small Business (FSB) in Scotland broadly welcomed the policy as a “timely and evidence-based intervention”.

“The immigration system is about to undergo its most dramatic transformation in decades at breakneck speed – with the new system due to be up and running in a little over 11 months’ time,” FSB Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae said.

“This self-imposed timescale should not preclude the possibility of a UK system working for the needs of Scotland’s small business community.

“The new paper from the Scottish Government is a timely and evidence-based intervention. It sets out a pathway towards a UK system that can flex for Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs, without creating additional burdens for smaller businesses.”

McRae encouraged the UK Government to “acknowledge that it is possible and desirable to enable its immigration system to respond to different regions and nations”.

Independent thinktank Reform Scotland said it was clear that “change, in the shape of a greater role for the Scottish Government in managing migration, is needed” and encouraged the Scottish and UK Governments to work together “in a constructive way” once the UK leaves the EU.

“Scotland needs more people. And if the UK intends to reduce immigration post-Brexit, Scotland needs a mechanism for managing and meeting its own specific needs. Reform Scotland will continue to contribute in detail to this debate in due course,” Reform Scotland director Chris Deerin said.

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