An independent expert group warned on Thursday that the UK’s proposed new immigration system could halve the number of people coming to Scotland — risking labour shortages in important industries.
The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) looked at the impact on Scotland of UK immigration policy after leaving the EU.
The group focused on the issue of skilled migrants from outside the EU needing to have a job offer with a minimum salary threshold of £25,600, which has been lowered from £30,000.
The group said even at this lower level, the salary requirement would discriminate against female migrants who would only be able to access around 37% of available jobs.
According to previous analysis by the EAG, 53% of roles filled by employees in Scotland earn less than £25,000, including up to 90% of jobs in the care sector.
Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said: “This independent report shows that UK immigration policy is 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% reduction in net migration under the new rules.
“Sectors with key workers who we have all 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 their plans.
“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, said: “While the lower salary threshold might lead to a moderate expansion of immigration through Tier 2, 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 we had noted in our 2019 report, but they still suggest that female migrants would only be able to access around 37% of available jobs (as opposed to c. 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 across Scotland.
“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.”