Scottish immigration 'could be cut in half'

The UK government's post-Brexit immigration system could cut the number of foreign workers able to work in Scotland by up to half, according to a report from a group of academics.

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Despite the government reducing the salary threshold in the points-based system due to come into force at the end of the EU transition period on December 31, the independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (EAG) says the new, £25,600 minimum is still too high for Scotland, where salaries are generally lower than in England, particularly outside major cities.The EAG, made up of a group of Scottish academics, first warned last year of the dire effects north of the border of a new immigration system after the end of freedom of movement. Now the group is calling on the UK government for further reforms centred on a lower salary threshold in Scotland.Their latest report estimates a 30-50 per cent fall in migration to Scotland with the social care, food production and hospitality sectors hardest hit. There are also fear that a large dip in immigration would have a major effect on the raising of taxes with serious consequences for public spending, particularly at a time of a growing, elderly population. The EAG said that Westminster's decision earlier this year to lower the salary threshold would increase the range of jobs open to skilled migrants, but that this would be more than offset by the end of free movement from the European Economic Area. Prof Christina Boswell, professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh, who chairs EAG said: “While the lower salary threshold might lead to a moderate expansion of immigration through Tier 2 (skilled worker visas), 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 per cent of jobs in East Renfrewshire would meet the new threshold, this figure is only 31 per cent in Na h-Eileanan Siar (the Outer Hebrides).“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 per cent of available jobs as opposed to 59 per cent for men.”Ben Macpherson, Scotland's finance minister, said that, despite changes in the salary threshold and an increase in the quotas for seasonal workers, the new policy devised in Westminster was still failing to address Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs. “Even with the proposed lower salary threshold of £25,600, Scotland would still potentially experience a 30-50 per cent reduction in net migration under the new rules," he said. “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.” 

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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