Scottish tourism is facing the growing prospect of a “workforce crisis” when Brexit takes effect unless the proposed immigration rules for EU nationals are relaxed, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The First Minister told the Scottish Tourism Alliance conference in Edinburgh that the sector was one of the “most at risk” from a UK Cabinet decision to introduce a system based on skills rather than nationality.
She said an estimated 75 per cent of EU nationals living in Scotland would have been ruled ineligible to come to the country under the proposed clampdown.
Ms Sturgeon said Brexit posed a “significant and, in my view, unnecessary risk” to ambitions to grow the industry that supports around 207,000 jobs – around 8 per of the workforce in Scotland.
Business leaders have expressed fears about the impact of a move to ban foreign workers earning less than £30,000 from obtaining visas to work in the UK after Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon said: “That decision not only shows complete disregard for the deep and long-standing ties between the UK and other EU countries.
"It also threatens to create a workforce crisis in sectors that are absolutely critical to the Scottish economy.
"Under that approach it’s estimated that 75 per cent of the EU nationals currently working in Scotland would have been ineligible to come here in the first place.
“It will therefore be incredibly difficult in the future to maintain and to expand the workforce on which our economy depends.
"Our tourism industry, which has 27,000 EU nationals working in it, will be one of the sectors most at risk.
"Of course, this is just the latest example of UK immigration policy running counter to Scotland’s interests which is why we continue to call for the devolution of this policy, within the current immigration system.
"The growth of your industry helps to strengthen our local communities, it helps to increase our national prosperity, and it helps to enhance Scotland’s international reputation.
"Building on the industry’s achievements – and continuing that success – will not be easy.
"Brexit presents a significant and in my view, an unnecessary risk to the future growth of Scottish tourism."
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: "A major concern for all in our industry is the current and future skills shortage, which is now further enhanced with the pending Brexit immigration policy."