Migrant workers home in on Scotland

Migrant worker Ewelina Chodorek picks raspberries at Blacketyside Farm in Leven, Fife. Picture: Dan Phillips
Migrant worker Ewelina Chodorek picks raspberries at Blacketyside Farm in Leven, Fife. Picture: Dan Phillips
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SCOTLAND is attracting more migrant workers than most parts of the UK, according to official figures.

Nearly 37,000 foreign nationals settled north of the Border last year, with only London and South-east England attracting substantially more, Department for Work and Pensions’ statistics reveal.

Migrants from Poland constituted the largest group in Scotland, with 7,390 applying for National Insurance numbers, followed by 2,540 from India. Spain – which is in the grip of a youth unemployment crisis – was third on the list.

The figures relate to those legally entitled to work and are likely to include a number of students attending Scotland’s universities who work part time.

Despite falling from a peak of 52,400 in 2008, annual ­migration to Scotland is now typically around two-and-a-half times the level it was a decade ago, which was around 14,700 in 2002-03.

Edinburgh was Scotland’s most attractive destination for migrant workers last year, with 10,140 settling in the city.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: “The capital has long been a multicultural city, which is something we should all value.

“Migrants bring with them a wide variety of new ideas, ­beliefs, customs and skills – benefiting the city’s economy and its diversity.”

Edinburgh is particularly popular with Spaniards – the top settler group in the capital – and Poles.

The figures show that 98,570 Poles currently hold a NI number applied for in Scotland, although the settled population today has been estimated at around 70,000.

Dr Tomasz Trafas, Polish Consul General to Scotland said: “There is not only a ­historical connection with Scotland, forged by the many soldiers who settled after the war, but an openness shown by the Scottish Government which has led to such numbers of workers travelling here.” Around 10,000 soldiers from the Free Polish Forces made Scotland their home after the Second World War.

Trafas added: “From the very beginning of our membership of the European Union in 2004, Scotland made it clear it was very open to us coming to live and work here.

“Scotland has offered good conditions for young migrants in particular and jobs are easier to find than other parts of the UK.

“The majority of settlers from Poland are aged 25-35 and many are well educated, whether they are technicians, or bank workers. It’s also common to find builders, and handymen and plumbers, for example.”

Trafas said that the cost of living in Scotland, compared with parts of England, was also an advantage.

“In my opinion, it is cheaper here also, in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, compared with London. We have also found that it is not only the big cities Polish people are attracted to, but also the Highlands and the Borders,” he said. “The number of new-born children is increasing also. Often they move over for work and bring their family over after a year or two. There is also a sizeable group of Poles who work here seasonally, spending half the year here and half in Poland.”

In Glasgow, Poles and Indians were the most populous of 7,020 arrivals last year, followed by migrant workers from Pakistan.

In Aberdeen, Nigerians were second on the list of 4,290 ­settlers, with 520 applying for work last year.

Many are believed to be skilled workers employed in the oil industry, having trained in their oil-rich homeland, and the population has grown rapidly in recent years, with 950 registering to work between 2004 and 2007 alone.

The UK government has proposed tough laws in recent months to stem the flow of ­migrant workers. New restrictions on non-European Union immigrants include minimum salary requirements of at least £31,000 and tighter student visa rules. Prime Minister David Cameron has also spoken of restricting access to state-funded benefits to incomers from the EU, in response to predictions about the number of workers who may travel to the UK from 2014 from the EU accession states of Bulgaria and ­Romania.

In Scotland, political leaders have highlighted the economic benefits of migrant workers. External affairs minister Humza Yousaf MSP said the Scottish Government welcomed the “contribution new Scots can make to our economy and society, and are working hard to attract the best international talent to our universities and our workforce”. He added: “An independent Scotland, with full responsibility for immigration, will be able to support the needs of Scottish businesses and help to address Scotland’s own demographic challenges.”

Wales attracted 11,900 settlers last year, while Northern Ireland drew 8,040. In North-east England, 8,600 applied for work permits, with Yorkshire and the Humber attracting 32,210. The figure for the East Midlands was 30,250 and in South-west England it was 28,530. England’s North-west, at 39,100, and West Midlands, at 40,740 and the East of England region, at 44,350, were only marginally ahead of Scotland. Only the South-east, with 67,830 settlers, and London, with 249,780, attracted substantially more. The total for the UK last year was 600,810.

Twitter: @RoryReynolds