‘Scottish visa’ after Brexit would tackle depopulation, say government advisers

Experts advising Nicola Sturgeon’s administration urge UK government to consider radical move

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Thursday 18 February 2021 12:37
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Today's daily politics briefing

A special “Scottish visa” could help address population decline north of the border, according to Scottish government advisers.

Experts advising Nicola Sturgeon’s administration said a post-Brexit visa for Scotland could encourage migrants to move to rural parts of the country struggling with depopulation.

Boris Johnson’s government has previously rebuffed the idea of different immigration rules for different parts of the UK – saying it would be too complicated for employers.

However, the expert advisory group on migration said the UK’s new points-based system could still be changed to encourage migrants with the relevant skills to move to Scotland’s rural areas.

The group also recommended that the UK government consider relaxing conditions on its post-Brexit skilled worker visa so employers in Scotland could have their own “shortage occupation” list.

The advisory group made clear any Scotland-specific immigration scheme would have to identify jobs seen as crucial for rural areas – and should not simply be aiming to achieve “replacement migration”.

The report states: “It should be targeted to attract migrants with the skills and profile that would best address socio-economic challenges created by population decline.”

Figures released last August showed more areas with a decreasing population than increasing in parts of the Western Isles and Angus in the far north of Scotland.

A UK government spokesperson responded to report by saying Downing Street did not want to “create an economic migration border between Scotland and the rest of the UK”.

Nicola Sturgeon and her minister Mike Russell wants to rejoin Erasmus scheme

The proposals come as Ms Sturgeon’s government vowed to keep fighting to remain part of the EU’s Erasmus student exchange scheme.

Earlier this week European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made clear it was “not possible” for Scotland to rejoin. “The only possibility for the UK is to associate as a whole, or not at all.”

However, constitution secretary Mike Russell told MSPs on Wednesday: “Let’s not give up. There may be all sorts of possibilities we can look at.

The Holyrood minister added: “We’ve got lots of friends in the European parliament who are very, very keen that we continue to have some association.”

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