Does Britain think immigration is too high?[24 March 2023]
- The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has released its report on the topic of ‘Immigration and Scotland’. This is our response.
- It is very disappointing that the report’s conclusion saw fit to ignore the crucial fact, made in both oral and written evidence to the Committee, that the majority of Scots [55%] think that immigration levels over the past decade have been too high [YouGov survey conducted in April 2018]. It is also notable that, according to a recent poll conducted for Channel Four, over two-thirds of Scottish respondents (70%) wanted to see a reduction in the level of EU immigration, including 43% who wished to see a big reduction.
- The report does, however, include some useful suggestions. For instance, there may be a case for reviewing the current Scottish Shortage Occupation List in order to ensure it fully takes accounts of Scotland’s immigration needs.
- There is also a case for ensuring, as the report recommends, that the current Tier 2 system be made less bureaucratic and complicated. However, a certain amount of paperwork is inevitable in ensuring immigration compliance. The Tier 2 process as it stands might also help to ensure that UK employers hire local recruits where suitable candidates are available.
- We agree with the suggestion that UK government ‘should also consider how Scotland can increase its share of migrants who come to the UK‘. Indeed, we made this point in our written evidence to the Committee and in our oral evidence on 30 January [see transcript]. However, this is surely more a matter for the Scottish Government than the UK government given the powers that have been devolved.
- The Committee’s suggestion for the implementation of a new and improved Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ scheme is also sensible, although our view is that this should also incorporate robust safeguards against overstaying and undercutting of UK workers, along the lines of the current New Zealand scheme which has been cited by the World Bank as an example of ‘best practice’ [see our paper].
- It is disappointing, however, that the Committee’s has failed to rule out proposing to move to a regionally differentiated immigration system. As was noted in evidence to the Committee, such a regional system, if it were implemented, would be even more complicated and bureaucratic than the current system. Only some 5% of firms surveyed were in favour of it
- The report says that the UK’s current Tier 2 system disadvantages Scotland by being based on salary. However, as the MAC said in January 2016: “Pay is the most transparent and objective measure of an employee’s economic value.” Surely if wages are not high enough to attract Scots into Scottish jobs then employers need to raise them. As the MAC noted in March: “Individual employers would almost always be able to recruit resident workers if they paid wages sufficiently above the going rate.” Businesses also need to invest more in training and improve working conditions, for instance in the food processing sector.
- The report is misleading when it states that ‘future population growth in Scotland is expected to be entirely dependent on inward migration‘. It fails to add the crucial contextual point that, in the words of National Records of Scotland, although ‘all of the projected increase in Scotland’s population over the next 10 years is due to net in-migration to Scotland’, 58% of net in-migration is projected to come from overseas over this period, with 42% from the rest of the UK’.
- As we said in our written evidence to the Committee, as the peak age of outward migration to other parts of the UK is 23-24 years old, ‘clearly more needs to be done to encourage young people to remain in Scotland after their studies are complete‘.
- A further crucial point, omitted from the report’s conclusions, is that the Scottish Government has accepted that Scotland’s population would still grow by 5% during 2014-2039 even if EU net migration were reduced to half its present level [Scottish Government, ‘Scotland’s place in Europe’, December 2016].
To read more about our proposals for a post-Brexit immigration system for the UK, read our June 2018 paper.