Devolve Scottish migration policy post-Brexit
What follows, is an abridged version of a recent Scottish Government report looking at Scottish migration policy, after Brexit. If we remain part of the UK, that is.
If you don’t have the time for the abridged version, the whole report can be summarised in one short paragraph.
Scotland has very different immigration needs to the UK as a whole. The UK post-Brexit immigration plans are really bad for Scotland’s economy. Therefore, it would be a great idea if powers over immigration were devolved and Scotland specific visas were introduced.
Read on for details from the actual report.
The current migration landscape.
Before Brexit is taken into account, projections from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that natural change, the number of births minus the number of deaths, is expected to be negative in Scotland each year for the next 25 years.
There are nearly 11,000 more deaths than births expected in 2041. All of the projected increase in Scotland’s population over the next 25 years is due to migration. Any move that limits migration to Scotland, therefore, has the potential to seriously harm Scotland’s economy.
There are projected to be more deaths than births in every year going forward. Each year for the next 25 years all of Scotland’s population growth is projected to come from migration.
Why is this a problem?
The proportion of the population of state pension age will increase by 25% in the coming years as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement. People aged 75 and over are projected to be the fastest growing age group in Scotland, increasing by 79% over the next 25 years
People in the oldest age categories become more likely to need access to health and social care services to support them in old age. Those essential public services will require a buoyant working age population.
Before we take into account the impact of Brexit, even with EU free movement, the working age population will grow only slightly, by around 1%
What is the impact of Brexit?
The Fiscal Commision has calculated that post-Brexit, the one percent increase in the working-age population will actually become a decrease. While the elderly population will remain the same.
Migrants who come to Scotland tend to be well educated and highly skilled, help raise productivity and contribute to government revenue. Scottish Government analysis submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) found that the average EU citizen in Scotland adds £10,400 to government revenue and £34,400 to GDP each year.
There is some evidence that migration boosts long-term GDP per capita, thereby increasing living standards, through diversity of skills and higher innovation activity.
New economic modelling in the paper highlights the economic impact of reduced levels of migration. The modelling seeks to quantify the impact that lower migration post-Brexit could have on the Scottish economy. It estimates that real GDP in Scotland will be 4.5% lower by 2040 than it would have been otherwise, as a result of lower migration. This is equivalent to a fall of almost £5 billion in GDP by 2040.
Scotland experiences a proportionally larger negative impact relative to the rest of the UK. The proportionately larger impact on Scotland is equivalent to £1.2 billion a year by 2040.
Loss of Free Movement.
If the UK Government, in leaving the EU, takes Scotland out of the European Single Market and Customs Union, the Scottish Government will want to maintain as many of the benefits of free movement of people as possible
If the future EU migration scheme for the whole of the UK does not replicate the benefits of free movement of people, the Scottish Government would seek to have new powers on migration devolved to the Scottish Parliament to ensure that, for future EU citizens coming to Scotland, their experience is the same as free movement within Europe and they are able to continue to live and work in Scotland as they do currently.
There is a range of possible outcomes where negotiation with the UK Government could arrive at a mutually-agreeable solution.
Short term solutions.
The priority for the Scottish Government is a mechanism to attract high-value migrants who can contribute to Scotland. This means a Scotland specific visa system controlled by the Scottish Parliament.
- This could operate under the UK immigration system with powers devolved to Scottish Ministers, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to determine and vary criteria and thresholds according to Scotland’s needs.
- Recognising the importance of family life in the migration system is also a priority, through visa routes that enable both migrants and UK nationals to be able to live in Scotland with their family. The Scottish Government believes that international migrants who are able to bring their family with them are more likely to integrate into communities, and contribute to the long-term demographic change that Scotland needs. Therefore, to support any Scottish visa within the point-based system, Scottish Ministers would also seek control over policy on being accompanied or joined by family members within Scotland.
- If a Scotland-specific visa were to be created within the UK immigration system, prospective migrants and sponsoring employers would still have a choice about which route through the immigration system to pursue. Individuals who meet the requirements of any of the other visas within the UK points-based system who wish to live or work in Scotland would be free to do so, while retaining the flexibility to resettle elsewhere within the UK. No barriers to movement between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be created for UK nationals or for those who are resident in the UK under the UK immigration rules
Some communities in other parts of the UK, and their respective elected representatives and governments, would seek assurance that the devolution of migration powers to Scotland aimed at increasing net migration in Scotland, would not then lead to migrants entering Scotland with the intention of relocating and settling elsewhere in the UK.
In short, Scotland wants migrants to live in Scotland, with the ability to visit the rest of the UK within the Common Travel Area; and the rest of the UK might also expect those migrants to stay in Scotland. Therefore, whatever the nature of devolution or differentiation, a central feature of Scottish migration policy would be to restrict migrants to living in Scotland as a condition of entry for the duration of the time they are under immigration control.
The longterm solution
Differentiated or regional approaches to migration are neither novel nor unusual in the international context. Both Canada and Australia operate devolved regional control, to address specific economic and demographic circumstances, within a national framework.
Both countries operate points-based systems that have a focus on permanently growing their populations through inward migration. However, the federal governments of both recognized that the limited dispersal patterns of new migrants were contributing to increased inequality between regions. In order to widen the benefits of migration, both Canada and Australia have encouraged and enabled regional governments to devise special programmes to attract migrants to areas beyond their primary urban centres. This process is supported by strong and well-established relationships and dialogue on migration between federal and province or state governments.
Due to Scotland’s unique circumstances, a devolved migration system, like we see in Australia and Canada, may be the best option if Scotland chooses to remain part of the UK post-Brexit.