AN independent Scotland might attract a higher number of international migrants than at present, with no significant change in cross-border movement between Scotland and England, Wales and Northern Ireland, experts have suggested.
The level of people moving between Scotland and the rest of the UK is likely to stay largely the same regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum, according to the ESRC Centre for Population Change.
Their research looked at how migration to and from Scotland might change following a Yes vote.
The newly published paper said: “A majority of experts believe that if Scotland becomes independent, migration from the rest of the United Kingdom will slightly decrease, but flows in the opposite direction will remain quite similar to the current ones.
“An independent Scotland might attract a higher number of international migrants and, to a lesser extent, generate a higher number of emigrants.”
It concluded: “There is a considerable variation between experts, which contributes to the uncertainty of forecasts of future migration to and from Scotland.”
The 2011 Census reported Scotland’s population at 5.2 million, the highest number ever recorded. About 7% (369,000 people) reported a country of birth outside the UK, an increase of three percentage points compared with 2001.
Poland was the most common non-UK country of birth of residents in Scotland, followed by India and Ireland.
The number of people from overseas living in Scotland is similar to the proportion in English regions, with the exception of London.
An online survey of more than 700 Scottish employers was carried out as part of the research on migration.
Two thirds said it was an important issue to them and one third said that they would like to see the subject receive more attention in the independence debate.
A majority perceived unrestricted migration for EU citizens as positive for Scottish business but some employers are concerned that Scottish independence or the UK changing its relationship with the EU may interrupt the freedom of EU citizens to live and work in Scotland, the paper said.
The authors concluded that a more tailored approach to migration policies is needed, whatever the outcome of September’s referendum.
Professor Allan Findlay from the ESRC Centre for Population Change said: “It is clear that the ‘London-effect’ has a bearing on the UK and English averages in relation to most migration statistics, so we think it could become important to separate out migration policies and tailor them to the different needs of regional economies, be that for Scotland, or for the regions of England.”
Mr Findlay, chair of the school of geography and geoscience at St Andrews University, added: “The Scottish Government, in its white paper on Scotland’s Future, has identified immigration as one of the key drivers of population and economic growth, and so our findings promote re-examining migration policies, with a view to following a less restrictive approach to immigration than is current policy in the UK.”
The ESRC Centre for Population Change is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is based at the University of Southampton and the National Records of Scotland.