MINISTERS have today unveiled plans to pilot a Scottish visa scheme to allow some businesses to recruit EU citizens and other foreign nationals following a shortage of workers in certain sectors post Brexit.
However, with immigration powers reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government have sent their proposals to the Home Office seeking the department's approval.
The new scheme has been drawn up by Mairi Gougeon, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands and Europe minister Neil Gray and aims to attract workers to areas struggling to recruit staff in remote areas.
Scotland’s rural areas have experienced population decline over a number of years.
In 2019, their share of the working age population was between six and seven per cent below the Scottish average.
The new scheme builds upon wider work the Scottish Government has submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee to date on migration policy within the current UK constitutional framework, which has highlighted how the current UK immigration system does not meet the economic and demographic needs of Scotland’s communities.
The UK's Migration Advisory Committee accepted in 2019 that the "current migration system is not very effective in dealing with the particular problems remote communities experience."
Rural areas have been heavily dependent on migration from the EU and ministers in Scotland believe the vacancies have risen further since Brexit.
Many jobs in care homes, hospitality and farm work do not meeting the required salary thresholds set by the UK Government to allow people from the EU and other parts of the world to take up posts in Britain.
Prior to Brexit freedom of movement across the EU allowed EU nationals to work in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK without the need for a visa.
The Migration Advisory Committee highlighted evidence from the Scottish Government on remote communities in their report of May 2019, and recommended the UK Government pilot a scheme to attract and retain migrants in remote areas.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid accepted that recommendation to develop a pilot scheme in a Written Ministerial Statement on 23 July 2019.
Ministers in Edinburgh believe the new Scottish visa plan could be implemented within the current UK immigration system.
Their report, published today, stated: "We have developed a robust and deliverable proposal which draws on international evidence, clearly reflects the needs of local communities and employers, and based on existing immigration enforcement."
It added that the proposed Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot (SRCIP) is modelled on a Canadian scheme designed to boost the population of its rural areas.
"The SRCIP would present a distinctly new, community-driven and employer-based migration route. It would offer a world-leading approach to spread the benefits of immigration to smaller communities, enabling migration – based upon genuine employment opportunity – which would meet the economic and societal needs of a specific community (either in respect to acute shortage, or potential for future growth/regeneration)," the document said.
Under the scheme employer-sponsors taking part in the scheme within designated geographic areas referred to as Community Pilot Areas would be able to advertise vacancies overseas.
Employers and communities could then assess prospective candidates, before recommending them to the Home Office for final approval and security checks.
Once a decision is approved employers, councils and other local organisations could offer a package of help the newcomers as they settle into life in rural Scotland.
Migrants would be required to adhere to conditions of employment whereby they are employed within the designated community pilot area, with restrictions easing gradually over a period of four years. Migrants entered on the scheme would be strongly encouraged to live within the pilot area.
After four years, restrictions would lift and migrants would be free to work anywhere in the UK, outside of their pilot area.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon first unveiled her plans for a separate Scottish visa scheme in 2020 with the proposals being welcomed by NFU Scotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) .
Leaders in farming and tourism, which had considerably relied on EU labour, condemned the UK Government’s new points-based immigration system claiming they threatened businesses and livelihoods.
Unveiling the pilot scheme today Ms Gougeon said: “The proposal sets out exactly how a bespoke immigration solution could be delivered at a local level in Scotland, now. These are interventions that can work in Scotland, just as they have worked in Canada.
“We believe that an independent Scotland would be best placed to deliver an immigration system which would meet Scotland’s needs. But employers, businesses, and communities are all telling us that actions are needed now.
“That is why we are calling upon the UK Government to make the required reforms to its ‘one size fits all’ immigration system with immediate effect, to avoid ongoing and further damage being done to Scotland.”
Theona Morrison, Chair, Scottish Rural Action said: “Scottish Rural Action has been pleased to contribute to the design of the Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot (SRCIP) proposal.
“Rural and island communities across Scotland have demanded specific responses, and so we have been encouraged to see that the SRCIP has been designed to reflect the needs of individual communities.
“We hope that the UK Government considers this proposal and acts upon it in ways that support the flourishing of rural and island communities in Scotland.”
Councillor Emma MacDonald Political Leader of Shetland Council said: “Shetland has incredible economic opportunities arising over the next few years, with developments in space, energy and decommissioning emerging alongside the continued high performance of our more established sectors such as fishing, aquaculture, construction and agriculture.
"However, an ageing demographic and shortage of key skills means that we are experiencing real struggles in growing our industries and maintaining key services, threatening economic prosperity and the potential for growth.
“The proposed rural visa pilot will recognise the pressing need for bespoke measures to address these challenges in rural areas.”