MINISTERS today unveiled plans to pilot a Scottish visa scheme to allow certain companies to facilitate the recruitment of foreign nationals following a shortage of workers in certain sectors after Brexit.
However, with immigration powers being reserved for Westminster, the Scottish Government sent its proposals to the Home Office for Ministry approval.
The new scheme was drawn up by Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural and Islands Affairs and Minister for Europe Neil Gray and aims to attract workers to areas that are struggling to recruit staff from remote areas. .
Rural areas of Scotland have seen a population decline over several years.
In 2019, their share of the working-age population was 6-7% below the Scottish average.
The new scheme builds on broader work the Scottish Government has to date submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee on migration policy within the current UK constitutional framework, which has highlighted how the immigration system current situation does not meet the economic and demographic needs of Scottish communities.
The UK’s Migration Advisory Board agreed in 2019 that “the current migration system is not very effective in addressing the particular challenges faced by remote communities”.
Many rural areas rely on migration to fill vacancies with many jobs in care homes, hospitality and agricultural work not meeting the required wage thresholds set by the UK government to allow people from the EU or other parts of the world to hold positions.
Before Brexit, free movement within the EU allowed EU nationals to work in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK without needing a visa.
The Migration Advisory Committee highlighted the Scottish Government’s evidence on remote communities in its May 2019 report and recommended that the UK government pilot a program to attract and retain migrants in remote areas.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid accepted this recommendation to develop a pilot project in a July 23, 2019 written ministerial statement.
Ministers in Edinburgh believe the new Scottish visa scheme could be implemented under the current UK immigration system.
Their report, released today, states: “We have developed a strong, deliverable proposal that is grounded in international evidence, clearly reflects the needs of local communities and employers, and is based on existing immigration measures.
He added that the Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot (SRCIP) is modeled on a Canadian program designed to increase the population of its rural areas.
“The SRCIP would present a distinctly new, community-driven, employer-based migration pathway. employment – that would meet the economic and societal needs of a specific community (either in terms of acute scarcity or potential for future growth/regeneration),” the document states.
Under the program, sponsoring employers participating in the program in designated geographic areas called community pilot areas could advertise jobs abroad.
Employers and communities would then be able to assess potential candidates, before recommending the chosen candidates to the Home Office for final approval and security checks.
Once a decision is approved, employers, councils and other local organizations could offer a range of supports to newcomers as they settle into rural life in Scotland.
Migrants would be required to abide by the terms of employment under which they are employed in the designated community pilot area, with restrictions gradually easing over a four-year period. Migrants enrolled in the program would be strongly encouraged to live in the pilot area.
After four years, restrictions would be lifted and migrants would be free to work anywhere in the UK outside their pilot area.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled her plans for a separate Scottish visa regime in 2020 for the first time, with proposals being welcomed by NFU Scotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA).
Agriculture and tourism leaders, who relied heavily on EU labour, condemned the UK government’s new points-based immigration system, saying it threatened businesses and livelihoods.