New migration rules will grant residency after just two years

Key quote "One of the virtues of the skills-based advisory system that we have is to acknowledge that, though the UK is one economy, there are very different shortages in different parts of the country and those will be reflected," - Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary

Story in full IMMIGRANTS wishing to settle in Scotland will now have to live here for just two years before being granted residency, after the government halved the qualifying time in an effort to boost the population north of the Border - while making it more difficult to settle in England.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, unveiled a points-based system that allowed Scotland to lure foreign workers by granting them indefinite leave to remain, in less than half the time than if they settled in England or Wales, where the qualifying time for residency is to be raised from four to five years.

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While the points system aims to fill Scotland's skills shortages, it will also subsume Jack McConnell's Fresh Talent initiative.

In what was effectively a slap-down for the Executive's bid to extend its own powers over immigration, Mr Clarke told MPs that he would not devolve controls away from London.

A separate skills shortage list will be drawn up for Scotland - for example targeting a shortfall of oil and gas workers - but it will be compiled by a UK-wide body.

Mr Clarke rejected calls from Stewart Hosie, the Scottish National Party home affairs spokesman, to allow the Executive to control the list.

He said while the Fresh Talent Initiative had been "in our opinion positive... it would be a grave mistake to go down a course of establishing these key labour market issues on simply a Scotland-England basis".

Earlier, Mr Clarke told The Scotsman that he had a "very good working relationship" with the First Minister.

"One of the virtues of the skills-based advisory system that we have is to acknowledge that, though the UK is one economy, there are very different shortages in different parts of the country and those will be reflected," he said.

However, Mr McConnell insisted the points scheme boosted his powers over immigration. It "deals us a very strong hand when it comes to attracting the best talent to Scotland and keeping it here," he said.

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Mr McConnell said the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland initiative would be incorporated into the top tiers of the scheme aimed at the most highly skilled migrants.

"These measures will be great strengths for Scotland," he said.

However, the Executive conceded there were no provisions to compel migrants to Scotland to stay after the qualifying period for residency was met.

The huge difference in the minimum residency qualifying times for England and Scotland will raise concerns that some migrants will exploit the system for two years before heading south. But a spokesman for the First Minister said that most people who settled in Scotland would not want to move as it boasted a "superior quality of life", health and education systems.

Jim Mather, the SNP's enterprise spokesman, branded the measures "unambitious" and called for Scotland to be given powers over immigration so it could match population growth in Ireland and Norway.

Under the Home Office proposals, a skills advisory board would be established to identify shortages. While these would draw on advice from Scottish bodies and set up a separate Scottish list, the organisation would be based in England.

Immigrants applying under the points system would have to fall under one of five tiers, from highly skilled to temporary workers who would be required to have a return ticket.

Five-tier system

APPLICANTS will be graded into five tiers, with entry to the first two determined by the accumulation of points and entry to the final three conditional on other things such as employment shortages or completion of a degree course.

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TIER ONE: Highly skilled, such as doctor or entrepreneur. Requires 75 points. As an example, a bachelor's degree would count for 30 points, while a PhD would earn 50.

Can settle for two years but can apply for permanent settlement.

TIER TWO: Skilled migrants such as nurses, teachers, engineers. Requires 50 points, reduced to 30 if a job cannot be filled by UK workers.

Can apply for leave to remain after five years in England or two in Scotland and bring dependants.

TIER THREE: Low-skilled, such as agriculture or hospitality. Entry allowed for one year when there is specific shortage, but no right to settle.

TIER FOUR: Students can apply for places at accredited university or college and stay for length of course "plus reasonable additional period".

TIER FIVE: Gap year students, au pairs, religious workers, etc - can settle for maximum of two years.