Report calls for ‘bespoke immigration policy’ for Scotland

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A new report for a Holyrood committee has highlighted how bespoke immigration measures could be implemented in Scotland, based on international examples.

Powers over immigration are currently reserved to Westminster, but the decision to leave the European Union has prompted calls for a distinct policy north of the border.

The Scottish Parliament’s European Committee published a report in February calling for a bespoke solution to be considered, because the demographic risk Scotland faces if the number of EU migrants drops is ‘’more acute’’ than for the UK as a whole.

The committee commissioned research which looked at international case studies including Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain, Quebec and Prince Edward Island in Canada and the State of South Australia to examine a range of potential options for Scotland.

The report by Dr Eve Hepburn lists 20 ways in which Scotland could adopt bespoke immigration policies, including a new postgraduate work visa, the creation of temporary work permits for seasonal migrants, international outreach to advertise Scotland as a destination for EU migrants and devolving administrative aspects of immigration.

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Committee convener Joan McAlpine said: “With our committee having previously recognised the need for a bespoke immigration system for Scotland, I welcome this new academic study which details international precedent of how this is already happening, in countries such as Australia, Canada, Spain and Switzerland.

“This report shows that there are sensible and straightforward ways for us to secure a bespoke system of immigration that addresses the specific needs of Scotland, even while the UK Government takes a different approach.”

Meanwhile, union leaders have argued that Scotland should be given new powers so it can take a “distinctly different” approach to issues such as immigration and employment rights.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is calling on Theresa May to make a six-point commitment to increasing Holyrood’s powers as part of the Brexit process.

General secretary Grahame Smith insisted it was incumbent on the Prime Minister to “recognise the different approach” being put forward in Scotland.

The STUC is demanding the UK Government entrench the rights of European Union (EU) citizens currently in Scotland, allowing them to remain living and working in the country.

It also wants the UK Government to negotiate a variated migration policy for Scotland, allowing the country to take a different approach from the rest of the UK.

Power over employment law and equalities should be devolved to Holyrood and MSPs should be able to increase the minimum wage if they want.

The STUC also wants the Scottish Government to be able to legislate on the right to work for refugees and asylum seekers while devolving more power over procurement could help create more apprenticeships and see more workers paid the living wage.

Mr Smith, speaking ahead of the STUC annual congress in Aviemore in the Highlands, said: “With a general election looming, it is vital that the trade union movement restates its position on Brexit and the protection of migrant workers.

“The STUC will continue to oppose hard Brexit and to campaign for free movement and the right of EU nationals living in Britain to remain in Britain.”

Motions being debated at the three-day congress “make clear the commitment of affiliated unions to inward migration and to the protection of migrant workers through legislation and trade union organising”, Mr Smith said.

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He added: “We believe migration has an entirely positive contribution to make to Scotland’s economy, demography and culture, particularly in a properly-regulated labour market in which workers’ rights are protected.

“However, as it becomes increasingly clear that Theresa May is wedded to a policy of hard Brexit, it is incumbent on her to recognise the different approach advocated in Scotland towards migration and employment protection.

“UK immigration policy is increasingly encroaching on the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament, including how it runs its public services and who works within it.

“Even with immigration reserved, it is clear that significant additional power could be vested in the Scottish Parliament.

“Along with powers to protect employment rights and increase the minimum wage, there is a potential to carve a distinctly different approach in Scotland.”