Scottish Cities Alliance call on UK Government for consultation on post-Brexit immigration proposals

June 27th 2019

The Scottish Cities Alliance is calling on the UK Government to open the dialogue on their post-Brexit immigration plans in order that future immigration strategy reflects the needs of Scotland’s economy and population.

Working under the auspices of the Alliance, the leaders of Scotland’s seven cities and Scottish Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson, are calling for a post-Brexit immigration system that ensures Scotland’s cities and citizens continue to thrive.

The seven cities contribute more than 60% of the country’s employment, representing a critical contribution to both the Scottish and UK economy. In particular, Scotland’s ageing population presents a long-term issue for the national economy which means the right immigration system is essential for the cities to have the required population resources to meet labour demand.

As the future of the UK economy relies on the ability of the cities as a whole to stay competitive as global centres of business and innovation, any future migration policy should take into account the specific needs of Scotland’s cities to attract the vital talent necessary for continued economic success.

The Alliance seeks the opportunity to work constructively with the UK Government to positively influence the future design and operation of the immigration system and has asked the UK Government to consider the following to ensure Scotland’s cities and citizens continue to thrive:

  1. The Scottish Cities Alliance is given the opportunity to contribute to constructive consultation on the proposed £30,000 Tier 2 salary threshold.
  2. The Alliance is given an opportunity to inform the Scottish Shortage Occupation List going forward to ensure it reflects the skills needed to support growth across the Scottish city regions.
  3. The UK Government reconsiders the introduction of a post study work visa to enable Scotland’s cities to retain young, international talent.
  4. The UK Government meaningfully engages with the Alliance to explore options around tailored migration solutions within a UK framework, specifically designed to meet Scotland’s economic and demographic needs.

Working together the Alliance seeks to build a consensus with the UK Government that presents solutions to our future needs.

Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said: “Migration is central to the stories of each of our seven cities. Scotland is a progressive, welcoming, internationalist nation that deeply values all those who choose to live, work, study and settle here.

“Migration has helped make Scotland’s cities global centres of innovation, culture and investment. The myriad of economic and social benefits of migration have supported strong growth in a number of vital sectors, from digital technology and academia to hospitality and finance.

“I welcome the consensus reached by the Scottish Cities Alliance on the UK Government’s future, post-Brexit immigration plans, and the shared understanding that what is being proposed by the UK Government is not appropriate for Scotland.

“Of course, the Scottish Government strongly believes that freedom of movement should continue; it has been one of the great successes of the European project. However, to protect Scottish interests, we are also trying to engage constructively with the UK Government as the political landscape evolves.

“I urge the UK Government to pay close attention to the positions presented in this cross-party statement by the Scottish Cities Alliance, and to do so with an open-mind. New immigration policy solutions to meet Scotland’s needs and address our demographic challenges are both increasingly necessary and achievable. Within a UK framework, it’s time for the UK Government to begin working together with the Scottish Government and others to deliver a differentiated approach to migration for Scotland - with new devolved powers to properly enable us to deliver tailored policies and solutions, so that Scotland’s cities and our country as a whole can continue to attract and retain the people we need to keep succeeding.”

The “asks” of the Scottish cities stem from a need to address the following challenges:

  1. 50% of all employees in Scotland’s seven cities earn less than £30,000, constraining the abilities of employers in Scotland’s cities to access the labour they require if a high threshold is applied to incoming international workers.
  2. Less than 50% of occupations in key sectors vital to Scottish cities earn less than £30,000. These include social care, construction, digital, travel and leisure.
  3. Restrictions on post study work visas for international graduates in Scotland, combined with the £30,000 Tier 2 threshold, are a key barrier to attracting and retaining the young, skilled workers of the future that will help counter-balance Scotland’s ageing demographic
  4. If Freedom of Movement comes to an end the Shortage Occupation List at present would not reflect the needs of the economies of Scotland’s cities.
  5. Retention of the Immigration Skills Charge places an extra burden on employers

These challenges aside, the Alliance welcomes the white paper’s commitment to remove the cap on the number of visas granted under Tier 2, while the lowering of the skills threshold for Tier 2 entrants to below graduate level will grant employers access to a wider pool of individuals with lower levels of formal education but relevant experience gained through work place learning.

Scotland’s cities have enjoyed a myriad of benefits from Freedom of Movement which, since 2000, has helped to reverse population decline; bringing new skills and talent into our cities to help drive economic growth. If the UK Government ends Freedom of Movement - as is intended - Scotland’s cities will require future immigration policy to enable them to continue to compete, innovate and support the delivery of inclusive growth outcomes that sit at the heart of their City and Region Growth Deals and regional economic strategies.

In December 2018, the UK Government published “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system” - a white paper which lays out proposals for the practice and implementation of a new, post-Brexit immigration system. Whilst the Alliance is encouraged by elements of the white paper that will reduce barriers to recruitment of non-EU workers, and the willingness of the Home Office to consult on the salary threshold for Tier 2 entrants, the proposals remain sub-optimal for the needs of Scotland’s Cities.

Councillor John Alexander, Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance, said: “The correct immigration system is absolutely essential for Scotland’s city economies to thrive and prosper. Indeed, with Scotland’s ageing population there must be action taken to meet labour demand and keep powering our cities.

“The UK Government’s white paper on plans for post-Brexit immigration simply will not meet the demands of Scotland’s cities and without action, this could be detrimental to the economic growth across the board.

“Working on behalf of Scotland’s cities, the Alliance must be consulted on the future policy which will be workable in Scotland, taking into account the country’s unique demographics.

“We need meaningful engagement with the UK Government in order for this to happen and I look forward to working together in order to find a post-Brexit migration policy that is fit for Scotland’s cities.”

To view the Scottish Cities Alliance's position statement on the UK Government's future immigration proposals click here

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