Nicola Sturgeon has branded the UK Government’s immigration proposals “an act of vandalism” as she called for a visa allowing Europeans to work in Scotland even if they earn less than £30,000.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that low-skilled workers and those earning under the £30,000 threshold will no longer have the automatic right to work in the UK after Brexit.
Mr Javid said the decision would bring immigration down to “sustainable levels”, while Prime Minister Theresa May added that it is still the Government’s target to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The UK Government’s immigration blueprint is an act of vandalism on Scotland’s economy, communities, NHS and public services.
“Yet again, they are intent on imposing disastrous policies on Scotland with no consultation with the Scottish Government, despite our repeated attempts to engage.
2/ @scotgov modelling shows that a 50% reduction in EU migration will send our working age population into decline. The estimate in this paper is that the UKG proposals could reduce EU/EEA migration to Scotland by 85%. That will devastate our economy and care sector.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 19, 2018
“The UK Government’s proposals take absolutely no account of Scotland’s distinct needs. The White Paper itself suggests that it may result in an 85% reduction in the number of EEA workers to Scotland – this will be catastrophic for communities and businesses across the whole of Scotland, particularly for key sectors such as tourism, hospitality and the care sector.
“There is growing support from business and organisations across the country for a differentiated solution for Scotland.
“Our proposal is for a visa specific to Scotland, to allow people to come and work in Scotland, under the threshold of the £30,000 salary band. It is time for the UK Government to listen to the needs of Scotland and act accordingly.”
Ms Sturgeon cited estimates that real GDP in Scotland will be approximately 6.2% lower by 2040 as a result of the Brexit-driven reduction in migration, equivalent to a fall of £2 billion in Government revenue over the period.
“This is an unacceptable price for Scotland to pay,” she added.
But Scottish Secretary David Mundell defended the proposal, and said: “The Immigration White Paper provides a strong foundation for delivering what businesses and individuals in Scotland want – a UK-wide immigration system with the flexibility to meet the needs of all sectors of the economy in all parts of the country.
“Our 12-month engagement with business will allow us to develop a future immigration system which addresses the specific economic and demographic needs in Scotland.
“At the same time, the Scottish Government must do more to shoulder their share of the responsibility for making Scotland an attractive place for people to live, work and put down roots.”
Following publication of the immigration proposals, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland called for “an urgent rethink”, warning the plans will have a disproportionate impact on firms north of the border.
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland Policy Chair, said: “The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities.
Home Secretary @sajidjavid today set out plans for a new skills-based immigration system which marks the end of free movement.
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) December 19, 2018
“These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
FSB research has found that small businesses in Scotland are more reliant on labour and skills from the EU, compared to the UK.
Mr McRae added: “Smaller Scottish businesses hire EU citizens to work across a wide range of occupations – from carers to retail workers, from bar staff to engineers. Predominantly they do so by advertising a post and taking on the best person for a job, who almost always is already living in the country.
“Requiring employers to grapple with what is currently a clunky and costly immigration system to hire international talent will have significant implications for the small business community in Scotland. The risk is that this makes small business owners into de-facto immigration officers.
“The proposed system also puts a lot of faith on Whitehall officials to predict the skills needs of a Dundonian manufacturer or a Highland hotelier years in advance. This reliance on state central planning is not the hallmark of a dynamic, responsive trading environment.”