FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon will continue to argue for more powers over immigration but has accepted unfettered control over Scotland’s borders is probably not possible, she told an audience of economic leaders.
Edinburgh University principal Tim O’Shea told a National Economic Forum (NEF) gathering in Edinburgh today that the UK Government’s immigration policy is making it difficult to secure work visas for successful students.
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Some 41% of his student roll come from outside the UK and they are over-represented in voluntary work and business creation, but often have to leave the country when their visas expire.
The Scottish Government’s demand for control over the post-study work visa was rejected by the Smith Commission on devolution but the commission has called for inter-governmental collaboration in future to allow MSPs to make direct appeals to UK immigration authorities on behalf of their constituents.
Speaking at the NEF, Ms Sturgeon said the UK’s work visa policy is “a real area of frustration” for her government.
She also attacked the “damaging and pejorative rhetoric” around immigration which is making the UK less attractive for students and workers.
“We have a situation where immigration policies, particularly in relation to post-study work visas and changes that have been made around that, through to what I think is often really damaging and pejorative rhetoric around immigration that is damaging our ability to attract people here,” she said.
“We have got a long and very well understood tradition of attracting some of the best people from around the world to come and study here, settle here and live here - as well as sending some of our best people to other parts of the world.
“But we, unfortunately, don’t have control over immigration policy or visa policy, but we do make very strong representations to the UK Government around these issues, sometimes with greater success than others.”
She said she will continue to argue for more power over immigration in her ongoing demands for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government insisted the Smith Commission did not go far enough and has pledged to take a package of “improvements” to the Scottish people at the general election.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I accept that complete unfettered control over immigration is probably something that is not possible, but I don’t see why we couldn’t have the ability to flex immigration policies in certain areas where that is in our interests.
“So, we will continue to work with universities and others to make the case to the UK Government that some of these policies are wrong-headed and making our task more difficult.”
Ms Sturgeon addressed the forum shortly before making her way to London for her first audience with the Queen since becoming First Minister.
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