February 23, 2018

Scotland debates devolution of migration post-Brexit

Scotland debates devolution of migration post-Brexit

The Scottish Parliament, the devolved national legislature of Scotland, has been debating the need for a separate solution for migration policy in Scotland, due to the country’s “unique” circumstances and needs. 

Prompted by the publication in early February of the Scottish Government paper Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy, the debate, held on February 22, sought recognition of the need for immigration policy to be devolved from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, particularly since the EU referendum vote of 2016.

Fiona Hyslop, Holyrood’s external affairs minister, who launched the paper, said: “There is now an overwhelmingly strong case for Scotland to have the power to tailor its own migration policy to reflect its own unique circumstances.” 

An estimated 219,000 EU citizens along with 135,000 other international immigrants live in Scotland, accounting for 7% of the country’s population. They play vital roles in tourism, agriculture, and health care. Hyslop believes that Westminster’s immigration plans will not support Scotland’s economy or its population needs. 

Official figures released this week indicate that net annual migration of EU nationals to Britain has already fallen by 75,000 in the past year to its lowest level for five years. If UK net immigration is reduced to the tens of thousands, as the UK’s Conservative government has committed to do, the impact on Scotland’s GDP could be more than £10bn per year by 2040.

A new international migration route to Scotland could promote long-term settlement and support fragile communities. Nicole B. Simpson in her IZA World of Labor article on the demographic and economic determinants of migration says: “Prior to making significant changes in migration policy, policymakers should make sure they sort out which factors are driving each migrant flow so they are better prepared to welcome their new migrants.”

The government paper suggests that devolved powers could make it easier for immigrants’ family members to join them in Scotland, while post-study work visas could also be reintroduced, allowing international students to remain and work after graduation. Residence restrictions could be included that prevent migrants relocating elsewhere in the UK.

Family-based immigration is a valuable component of any national immigration strategy, according to Harriet Duleep and Mark Regets: “Their high rates of investment in new skills helps to make their host country’s labor market more flexible to changing needs, and leads to entrepreneurial creation of new goods and services.”

Read more articles about the relationship between migrant and native populations and migration policy.

Contact a topic spokesperson.