Proposals for a new Scottish Visa to address depopulation and cut skills gaps have been unveiled by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The proposals have been designed to work with devolution – but the principles and the practical measures proposed could be adapted should Scotland become independent in future.
Under the current constitutional arrangements, the Scottish Government plan would see responsibility for immigration policy split with the UK Government.
Migrants wanting to live in Scotland could choose to apply for a Scottish Visa, or one of the existing immigration routes offered by the UK Government.
Residence in Scotland and maintaining a Scottish tax code would be a requirement for such a visa.
These proposals are important and urgent. In contrast to the rest of the UK, all of Scotland’s population growth for the next 25 years is projected to come from migration, and yet new UK Government immigration controls and the end of free movement after Brexit are expected to exacerbate the risk of skills gaps and labour shortages in Scotland.
The First Minister said:
“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 policy paper Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper sets out how proposals for a Scottish Visa would work.
Under one model the Scottish Government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, would define the criteria for the new visa, receive and assess applications and then nominate successful candidates to the UK Government.
The UK Government would then verify the identity of applicants and make relevant security checks before issuing a visa to successful applicants.
Migrants holding a Scottish Visa would be required to live in Scotland with a Scottish tax code.
The UK Government is expected to release a policy statement setting out a new framework for immigration following Brexit, which may include a points-based system.
Countries including Canada and Australia that have points-based systems have developed regional immigration schemes to allow states and provinces to attract and retain people with the skills and attributes needed.
The Scottish Government will consult widely on delivery models for a Scottish Visa if agreement is reached with the UK Government on the need for a tailored policy.