THE UK’s proposed new immigration system could still lead to a halving of the number of people moving Scotland to work despite recent revisions, experts have warned.

A new report estimates a 30 to 50 per cent fall in migrants to Scotland as a result of post-Brexit plans for a points-based immigration system.

The social care, food production, and hospitality sectors, where wages are often lower, could find it hardest to recruit staff after the planned changes. 

Rural areas could also suffer because of lower wages excluding migrants.

The five Scottish academics on the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (EAG) first warned of a 50% drop in migrants in 2019.

With migration vital to maintaining Scotland’s workforce and raising the taxes to support a growing elderly population, there was alarm at the potential impact on public spending.

After widespread criticism, the UK Government issued changes in February to the system, which is meant to replace the free movement of EU citizens. 

These included lowering the salary threshold for migrants from £30,000 a year to £25,600, with an increase in exceptions to the rule, and expanding a pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers from 2,500 to 10,000.

The EAG found that lowering the salary thresholds would increase the range of jobs open to migrants, but this was offset by a decline in migrants from the European Economic Area.

It said: “Taking both considerations into account – the broadening of [jobs], but the general decline in EEA migration to the UK – we would retain the original projected scenarios from the 2019 report, i.e. anticipating a reduction of net migration of between 30–50%.”

The report also found that even the lower salary, female migrants who would only be able to access around 37% of available jobs, because of the wage gap between the sexes. 

SNP migration Minister Ben Macpherson said UK policy was still failing to address “Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs”.

He said: “Even with the proposed lower salary threshold of £25,600, Scotland would still potentially experience a 30-50% reduction in net migration under the new rules. 

“Sectors with key workers we relied upon to support us through the pandemic will be hit particularly hard by the UK Government’s policies, including social care and food production. 

“With just over six months until freedom of movement with the EU ends, and as we face the biggest economic crisis in decades, we urge the UK Government to pause and reconsider.

“Ploughing on regardless would be deeply irresponsible and costly. 

“It is time the UK Government fully consulted with the devolved administrations and industry bodies, and tailored their approach to develop a system which recognises and meets the distinct needs of all four nations.”

Professor Christina Boswell of the University of Edinburgh, who chairs the independent expert group, added: “While the lower salary threshold might lead to a moderate expansion of immigration through Tier 2 [jobs], remoter and rural regions will still be more adversely affected after Brexit, because of the lower number of jobs available meeting the threshold.

"For example, while around 58% of jobs in East Renfrewshire would meet the new threshold, this figure is only 31% in Na h-Eileanan Siar.

“This risks exacerbating problems of population decline in remote and rural areas of Scotland, which are the areas most in need of in-migration. 

“The proposals slightly narrow the gender gap, but they still suggest that female migrants would only be able to access around 37% of available jobs as opposed to 59% for men.”

Dr Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive Officer of Scottish Care, commented: “There have been few individuals who have more dedicated their lives to the fight against Covid-19 than those working in frontline social care roles. 

“We know that a significant number of these women and men come from the European Economic Area.

“This independent report shows that the proposed UK immigration policy risks shutting the door on the ability of social care providers to recruit talented, skilled and dedicated workers from Europe and elsewhere. 

“The proposed lower salary threshold of £25,600 simply fails to recognise that the vast majority of those working in social care in Scotland earn less than this figure.

“I urge the UK Government to give serious consideration to the reform of their proposals, to appreciate the distinctive needs of Scottish social care providers and to prevent the damaging consequences which will inevitably ensue were this policy to be implemented.”