BUSINESS leaders in Scotland fear the prospect of tightened immigration controls post-Brexit could damage vital sectors of the economy and harm their ability to fill job vacancies.
CBI Scotland has called for EU nationals already living and working in the UK to be taken “off the bargaining table” and given certainties over their future.
Hospitality, tourism and information technology already employ significant numbers of staff from overseas.
There are 45,000 migrants working in the hotel and restaurant industry north of the border alone, according to one industry estimate.
Around 30 per cent of staff in the Crieff Hydro group of hotels, which operates across eight locations, are EU nationals from the continent.
Businesses in rural parts of the country which rely on seasonal workforces fear the impact could be felt as soon as next summer, as potential staff from elsewhere in the EU choose to avoid the UK.
“There are many people from other EU member states who work in Scotland, taking pride in their jobs and contributing to their communities,” said Hugh Aitken, CBI Scotland director.
“It’s important that EU migrants living and working here are off the bargaining table and to give them certainty that they can stay here.
“This is an important issue, and the new Westminster Government will need to take a pragmatic approach, balancing the needs of business and the economy with people’s concerns about the impacts of immigration.”
New prime minister Theresa May has signalled she will not guarantee the right of EU nationals living in the UK without similar concessions for Britons staying elsewhere in the EU.
Complex negotiations over Brexit could mean years of uncertainty for staff and employers.
Nicola Sturgeon has emphasised the Scottish Government would pursue all possible options to retain Scotland’s EU status, including the right of all EU citizens to continue to live and work freely in the country.
The First Minister discussed the issue with May when the two met for the first time on Friday.
“Our continued place in the EU is essential for jobs, investment and long-term prosperity – and any move to strictly limit migration, whether from within or beyond the EU, has the potential to seriously harm our economy,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman.
Business leaders have already held preliminary discussions with Holyrood ministers over how best to ensure potential employees can be attracted to work in Scotland.
William Macleod, executive director of British Hospitality Association Scotland said the Scottish Government and employers recognised the importance of migrants from the EU and elsewhere working in the sector.
“Our message is we very much welcome EU nationals here and we value them working in our industry,” he said. “They bolster a labour market which we sometimes find difficult to recruit seasonal vacancies from.
“They also help us with a skillset which we don’t readily find among the resident population without undertaking a lot of training.
“If the supply of labour was cut-off it would cause problems for the hospitality industry not just in Scotland but across the UK. But we recognise the messages coming out of Wesminster that Brexit means Brexit. Like everyone else, we wait for the result of negotiations and what it means for the free market.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “There is no doubt that this is a major concern for tourism businesses, particularly within the hospitality sector.
“Our hoteliers have the greatest challenge ahead. We’ve heard a number of concerns expressed from the hospitality industry, particular in the West Highlands and other rural locations where businesses are dependent on a seasonal workforce and a worry that the impact could be felt as soon as next summer.”