Scotland’s first minister has called on the UK government to help create a post-Brexit “Scottish visa” that would allow easier entry for immigrants willing to commit to living north of the English border.
The call from Nicola Sturgeon on Monday reflects concern about the economic and social implications of the end to freedom of movement for EU citizens, with experts saying it could lead to a fall in the Scottish working age population over the next 25 years because of the slowing birth rate.
Politicians in Scotland have been much more positive about the benefits of immigration than in other parts of the UK and Ms Sturgeon said she wanted a tailored approach for Scotland that would be as “open and flexible as possible”.
A one-size-fits-all UK system that sought to cut overall immigration would be “pretty disastrous” for Scotland, the first minister said.
“I hope the UK government will be prepared to work with us to deliver a Scottish visa,” she said.
In proposals published on Monday, the Scottish government said the UK could retain overall control of immigration and border controls, but devolve to Edinburgh the power to create a new visa process subject to Home Office identity and security checks. The visa would allow immigrants to live and work in Scotland.
The UK Home Office, which on Monday unveiled a new “Global Talent” route into the UK for top scientists and mathematicians, dismissed the suggestion that influence over visas might be devolved to Scotland.
“Immigration will remain a reserved matter,” a Home Office spokesman said. “The UK government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.”
But the Scottish proposals are likely to increase pressure on the UK Conservative government to look for ways to ensure that post-Brexit immigration meets the particular needs of areas such as Scotland where population growth is driven largely by migration and migrants’ higher birth rate.
The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland broadly welcomed the Scottish government’s “timely and evidence-based” proposals.
Andrew McRae, FSB Scotland policy chair, said: “The UK government should acknowledge that it is possible and desirable to enable its immigration system to respond to different regions and nations.”
UK officials are concerned that devolving or even merely tailoring policy for Scotland or other parts of the UK could massively complicate the immigration system. However, the Scottish government says international experience and the past success of the Scotland-only post-study work visa show that its proposals are practical.
An independent study last year concluded that Canada’s immigration system showed how policy could be tailored to help Scotland head off a looming demographic crisis over the balance between pensioners and working age Scots.