The UK government’s post-Brexit immigration White Paper has been given a tough reception in Scotland, with the SNP government condemning the plans as “an act of vandalism on Scotland’s economy”, while businesses, universities, and members of Theresa May’s own party have voiced their own doubts.
And there was a demonstration of the tensions within government over the policy moments before it was unveiled, with the Prime Minister appearing to overrule her Home Secretary by telling MPs the government would persist with a net migration target of 100,000 – a level that has never been reached.
Under a system that will apply from 2021 when EU free movement comes to an end, anyone who wants to move to the UK to live and work would need some form of permission, and EU visitors will need to take part in an Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme to visit.
Students will be able to remain in the UK for six months after an undergraduate degree and a year after a PhD to look for work.
A cap on the number of skilled workers allowed into the UK will be lifted, and there will be no limit on the number of international students who could come to study in the UK.
While the government intends to impose a minimum salary threshold, the White Paper stops short of committing to a specific figure following widespread opposition to proposals that it should be £30,000. The Scottish Government claimed the plans would mean the Scottish economy would 6.2 per cent smaller by 2040 than it would otherwise have been, representing a £2 billion fall in government revenue.
The First Minister said: “The UK government’s immigration blueprint is an act of vandalism on Scotland’s economy, communities, NHS and public services.
“The White Paper itself suggests that it may result in an 85 per cent 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.”
Tracy Black, the director of CBI Scotland, called the policy a “sucker punch” to employers. “The UK government’s own analysis suggests people and regions will be poorer as a result of them,” she said.
Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim said he was “concerned that UK immigration policy post-Brexit will make it more difficult to attract talent to our nation.”
Scottish Secretary David Mundell defended the new measures, saying they provide “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.”
A new work visa scheme will allow immigrants to come to the UK to work for up to a year. It would be open to nationals from specified countries, regardless of their skill level or whether they have a definite job offer. A “cooling-off” period will they could not return under the same route the following year. While in the UK, they would not be entitled to access public funds or switch to other routes.