It came as the Scottish Government set out its plans to help EU workers stay in Scotland after Brexit by meeting the costs to register for “settled status” after the UK’s departure. It would apply to all the country’s public sector workers.
Mr Russell told a fringe meeting at the SNP conference yesterday that the “present atmosphere” means many EU nationals no longer feel wanted.
“I meet with EU nationals all the time and there are an awful lot of people saying to themselves I no longer want to stay,” he said.
“It’s not that in Scotland things are particularly bad, it’s just that things have changed substantially. I met a doctor who had been in the health service for over 20 years.
“He said the whole way that the debate had been conducted had put him in a position that he didn’t really want to stay.
“He felt that he was frankly being abused. For 20 years he was vital to the health service and now he was being told that he would require to jump through some hoops and he didn’t want to do that.”
Mr Russell pointed to the example of university academics who lead projects with EU funding who are being now told they cannot fulfil these roles. “People are saying `No – if you’re in Scotland, if you’re in the UK, we’ll have you in the department, but we don’t think you should lead this project.’”
Mr Russell warned: “They will go elsewhere to lead that project – that kind of academic worker is very, very mobile indeed.”
Nicola Sturgeon said covering the “settled status” costs would help keep “vital workers” in the NHS and other services, but would also send an important message to Europeans living and working here.
It is estimated that around 20,000 EU citizens work directly for Scotland’s public sector, including the National Health Service, with many more employed in services such as social care.
Ms Sturgeon said she believed the UK government was going to make Europeans living in Britain apply for “settled status” if they want to remain in the country post-Brexit and could “possible charge a fee” for this.
The fee level has not been set but if it’s the same as it is for residency it will be around £65.