SCOTLAND is likely to lose out on vital low-skill EU migrant workers after Brexit, with the agriculture, care, construction and hospitality sectors hardest hit, a new report has warned.

It said the end of free movement and a tighter immigration regime would see such workers try other EU nations and English-speaking countries such as the US and Australia.

The researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities also warned a lack of joined up thinking by the UK Government meant the fate of such workers was being overlooked.

While there had been work on maintaining the flow of high-skill and seasonal workers, little was being done on maintaining adequate numbers of key low-skill workers all year round.

There was a particular failure to plan to Scotland’s rural areas and its demographic needs, with a growing elderly population requiring more care workers.

There are around 128,000 EU nationals working in Scotland, 5 per cent of the workforce.

The Scottish Government said the report showed the need for Holyrood to control migration.

The report, Choices Ahead: Approaches to lower skilled labour migration after Brexit, found a shift to more restrictive migration system was likely “to have substantial effects on the supply of EEA [European Economic Area] nationals into lower-skilled jobs”.

Some Scottish sectors were particularly reliant of EU nationals, with more than a fifth of basic cleaners and food processors from the continent.

There were also lesser concentrations in manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and finance.

It recommended policy makers “balance a range of labour market, demographic and social goals in developing policies to regulate low-skilled migration”, and consider how changes would affect the decisions of would-be migrants on mobility and settlement.

It said: “Whatever programme is adopted, the UK and Scotland will have to compete with other countries as potential migrant destinations. For EEA nationals, other countries within the EEA will become attractive alternatives. Other English-speaking countries (USA, Canada or Australia) with more complex entry requirements may also begin to emerge as more attractive destinations, especially for younger migrants with good English-language skills.’

Co-author Professor Christina Boswell, of Edinburgh University’s Department of Politics and International Relations, said: “Most of the discussion about immigration needs after Brexit has focused on higher skilled occupations - with the assumption being that we can regulate lower-skilled immigration through temporary and seasonal schemes.

“But experience from other countries suggests such temporary schemes can have serious drawbacks, leading to vulnerability, a high level of churn, and challenges with enforcement.

“Such restricted rights programmes are likely to be far less appealing to EEA nationals.”

Co-author Professor Rebecca Kay, of Glasgow University’s School of social and Political Studies, added: “Each year thousands of European nationals fill lower-skilled job vacancies in many UK industries like agriculture and care work. Many have stayed longer-term, raising families and contributing to their local communities.

“Policy makers designing new immigration policy must consider the varied needs of these workers and the attractiveness of the UK as a destination.

“Policy design will impact both on our ability to attract migrant workers at all, and on the types of migrants who are willing to come to, or settle in our country.”

External affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This report clearly sets out the potentially catastrophic impact to Scotland’s business and communities of the UK Government’s migration policies. This cannot be an acceptable scenario and makes it all the more important, as the deadline of the UK leaving the EU draws closer, that we have the powers to set a migration policy tailored to Scotland’s specific needs and circumstances.”

Green MSP Ross Greer said: “The scale of the task Scotland faces in attracting European nationals is laid bare in this report. It outlines how other English speaking countries and other countries in the EEA will become ‘more attractive destinations’ than Scotland.

“Worse still, families with young children, looking for a new home for the long-term, will be deterred by a ‘more restrictive system’. This will cause huge damage to our economy.”