Over the last few months, UK immigration policy has been making news headlines. Rarely are they positive.

We read about plans to send refugees on one-way flights to Rwanda; delays in granting visas for refugees from Ukraine; and families being separated due to visa processing backlogs.

Immigration stories fill the headlines at a time when international travel is at an all-time low.

This is primarily due to ongoing pandemic restrictions coupled with a shift toward online meetings over costly and time-consuming international business travel that undermines a greener mindset.

When business and personal travel starts to revert to pre-pandemic levels, we will encounter the stark realities of travelling from post-Brexit Britain.

We are as a country restrained by the impact of a UK-wide Immigration policy

Travellers will encounter the challenges of the Schengen zone and the strictness of the longstanding 90/180-day Schengen visa rules that limit our ability to spend varying periods of time, of our choice,within the EU.

The lack of global travel over the last couple of years has sheltered us from the many changes that Brexit brings to international travel - especially in relation to travel to the EU for business or pleasure.


Brexit has had a serious impact on our already stretched labour market in Scotland, most notably in the hospitality industry, but we are also now starting to see the impact in other sectors as the global battle develops to attract and retain skillsets that are in shortage across Scotland, the UK and in general around the globe.

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Businesses need to be able to attract and retain international talent to innovate and grow. Recent changes to the post study visa rules will help in this regard.

The lobbying campaign for this that civic Scotland and the Scottish Government worked on in partnership is a great example of how different interests can come together to work for the commongood.

We need to be open to such approaches if we are to develop a cohesive, fair and compassionate immigration policy that benefits our economic interests while also addressing our population challenges and meeting our humanitarian obligations.


The message that Scotland is a welcoming destination for international investment, capital and talent is a good one, and while there are endeavours to promote Scotland’s assets and opportunities we are as a country restrained by the impact of a UK-wide Immigration policy - with the reality being that the existing immigration visa rules can too often act as a barrier to such development.

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The sudden and high-profile closure of the £2m investor visa in February this year shut a key route which was used by those seeking to invest in Scotland, which will ultimately deprive businesses of much-needed international capital.

The Home Office has promised to deliver alternative routes to replace the investor category as part of their ongoing overhaul of the Immigration rules with emphasis on attracting those who can contribute skills and innovation to the UK.

Adding thousands of pounds to the cost of visa sponsorship by an employer also restricts some SMEs from accessing international talent. 

Sponsorship fees are coupled with visa application fees, the Immigration Skills Charge, the Immigration Health Surcharge and a variety of other costs make the sponsorship system unpalatable to employers.

The visa option for retired people of independent means was withdrawn several years ago with no alternative in place.

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This was a route once popular amongst American and Canadian nationals keen on relocating to Scotland, most notably to the Highlands and Islands. 

Failing to offer an alternate route means that Scotland is effectively closed to a wide range of people who are not a burden to the state and indeed only contribute to the Scottish economy.

Immigration policy is reserved to Westminster and there have been growing calls from the Scottish Government and others for aspects of it to be devolved to Holyrood or at least to consider a Scottish Visa option.

This has been firmly resisted and is in our opinion unlikely to change.

Policy-makers in Scotland therefore need to be creative and proactive in how we utilise the existing visa rules to Scotland’s advantage. We need to be braver and bolder in how we attract inward investment and see it through into practice.

We also need to ensure there is a change to the anti-immigration rhetoric that plagues us, the activist / lefty lawyers insults for those of us working in the field, that more is done to promote a positive debateon migration ensuring it is seen as a benefit and not as a threat, and that it can be shown to be necessary for our labour market, for economic growth and for development in Scotland.

We must operate within the current framework of immigration control by the UK Government, but there is concern within the business community that our specific needs are not being met by an immigration policy which is overly restrictive, expensive and cumbersome.

There needs to be a harmony between Scotland’s specific needs to attract skills, people and capital investment while maintaining effective immigration control.

We must be bolder in marketing Scotland as a destination in which to work, invest and live, but we need to deliver practical results and not simply continue the debate in how to do so against a hostile immigration system.

The goal has to be attracting the best and brightest talent to Scotland by learning how to utilise and develop the existing Immigration visa rules to do so in this new post-COVID and post-Brexit world.

Grace McGill and Jamie Kerr specialise in immigration law at Burness Paull in Glasgow