Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today unveiled plans for a new Scottish Visa, aimed at giving Scotland the flexibility it needs to address demographic changes and counteract skills gaps.
The proposals have been designed to work in accordance with the current devolved relationship between Holyrood and Westminster. In other words, the structure of the visa is tailored to the present constitutional arrangement between the two nations, which sees the Scottish Government possessing a degree of autonomy whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom.
However, the Scottish Government have stated that the ‘principles and practical measures’ of the plans could be adapted for a fully independent Scotland were this to become a reality in the future.
With regard to how the visa would work within the current setup, control over immigration policy would be split between the Scottish and UK governments. Overseas nationals intending to base themselves in Scotland would be able to apply for the Scottish Visa or one of the existing UK immigration routes.
In order to obtain a Scottish Visa, one would have to be resident in Scotland and possess a Scottish tax code. The visa would sit alongside the current UK visa types rather than constituting a separate bureaucratic process.
A policy paper by the Scottish Government entitled ‘Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper’ sheds light on how the visa would work on a governmental level. It states that under one model, the visa’s eligibility criteria will be determined by the Scottish Government. They would then be responsible for assessing applications and deciding which candidates are successful.
It would then be the responsibility of the UK government to verify the applicants’ details and ensure that they do not pose a security threat.
The visa would sit alongside the current UK visa types rather than constituting a separate bureaucratic process.
Scotland faces economic challenges due its ageing population- a dwindling number of working-age citizens leads to skills gaps and labour shortages. Scotland differs from the rest of the UK due to these demographic characteristics- all of its population growth in the next 25 years is expected to come from migration.
Yet both the ending of free movement and the Conservative government’s introduction of new immigration controls will intensify the demographic challenges that Scotland faces. For this reason, the Scottish Government believe it of paramount importance that they are given the power to shape their own policy in this area.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had this to say:
“Migration to Scotland supports economic growth and the delivery of public services and helps to address the serious issue of long-term demographic change – as well as enhancing and sustaining our communities.
“Yet the latest proposals from the UK Government to control immigration and end freedom of movement would be disastrous for our economy and society and would risk acute labour shortages.
“Migration is an issue which is crucial for our future, but the Scottish Government doesn’t currently have the powers needed to deliver tailored immigration policies for Scotland.
“Devolving immigration powers by introducing a Scottish Visa would allow Scotland to attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish.”
The introduction of a Scottish Visa is being touted as a radical move in some quarters. But nations such as Canada and Australia- both of which have points-based immigration systems- allow for regional immigration policies to be formed in accordance with the demographic and economic needs of individual states and provinces.
Scotland differs from the rest of the UK due to these demographic characteristics- all of its population growth in the next 25 years is expected to come from migration.
This provides regions with the ability to address skills shortages and depopulation, something that would be of huge use to Scotland.
In a 2018 paper entitled ‘Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy’, the Scottish Government suggest that businesses will not need to obtain a sponsor licence in order to hire holders of a Scottish Visa.
Removing the need for sponsorship will remove a significant burden from small and medium businesses. This would be hugely positive, as businesses of this size make up a greater proportion of the economy in Scotland than they do in other parts of the UK.
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