BY CHRISTINA BOSWELL AND SARAH KYAMBI

THERE has long been a greater acceptance in Scottish politics of the need for immigration to meet both demographic and economic challenges.

But successive UK Governments have cleaved to the ritual of defending a target of reducing net migration, despite repeated failures to meet this goal. With a possible end to free movement for EU nationals, the question of how Scotland can secure the immigration it needs has once again risen up the agenda.

Loading article content

EU nationals make up 43 per cent of Scotland’s foreign-born population, and three per cent of the overall population. The Scottish Government has been vocal in its desire to attract and retain migrants to fill labour market shortages and to address demographic needs. Indeed, 90 per cent of projected population growth in Scotland is predicated on sustaining current levels of net migration from overseas at around 15,000 per year. Yet Scotland is in a bind: it is clear that the loss of EU migrants poses a threat to this nation’s immigration goals; yet the current devolution settlement provides it with no powers over the selection and entry of immigrants.

Differentiated immigration systems are often dismissed as either unworkable or a covert ploy for further devolution or Scottish independence. Neither is necessarily the case.

We suggest setting up a body in Scotland along the lines of the UK Migration Advisory Committee, to enhance the Scottish Government’s capacity to analyse and present its immigration needs, and to devise measures that best meet them. The issue of political feasibility gives us more pause for thought. Those options that appear best suited to Scotland’s migration needs are also those likely to be the most politically contested. Notably, Australian or Canadian-style differentiated points-based systems involve complex and resource-intensive selection and recruitment processes, but very little in the way of subsequent control and enforcement.

We question whether, given public concerns about immigration, such a model would be easily sellable in Scotland or the UK.

Another challenge concerns how to meet needs for lower-skilled labour. The majority of EU nationals work in low-skilled jobs, so one of the biggest challenges post-Brexit will be to meet labour market needs in these occupations. Current discussions point to a revival of seasonal programmes and temporary permits for affected sectors. We suggest a number of options for meeting Scottish needs within the existing UK immigration system, allowing for more generous rights and protections for workers.

There are a number of promising channels for meeting Scotland’s needs, that do not require a radical overhaul of current arrangements. The challenges in realising them reflect the heat of debate on immigration more than the practical difficulties of implementing them.

  • Christina Boswell is professor of politics and deputy dean of research in the College of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Dr Sarah Kyambi is an expert on immigration and integration policy at the University of Edinburgh.

To read the full Scottish Immigration Policy After Brexit, please click HERE