‘Immigration and Scotland’
- Scotland’s labour force is much less dependent on migrant workers than most of the rest of the UK.
- The majority of EU migrants in Scotland are employed in lower skilled jobs.
- A sample of Scottish employers and industry representatives found that they were ‘emphatic’ that Scotland’s employment needs are not different from the rest of the UK, apart from London and the South East of England.
- 40,000 people a year move to other parts of the UK, many of them young. More is needed to encourage them to stay after completing their studies.
- Scotland’s employers should do more to mobilise the local pool of unused or under-utilised labour.
- Different immigration rules in different parts of the UK after Brexit would be unjustified and impracticable.
- A recent poll found that 63% of Scottish respondents wish to see a significant reduction in net migration.
What level of immigration to Scotland is required to meet the needs of the Scottish economy?
1. In general, Scotland’s labour force is much less dependent on migrant workers than most of the rest of the UK. While around 17% of the UK workforce is made up of those who are non-UK born, Scotland’s share is just over 10%. LFS analysis suggests that the proportion of foreign-born workers in Scotland in highly-skilled, mid-skilled, service-intensive and labour-intensive occupations is lower than for the rest of the UK outside London.
2. Analysis of the LFS suggests that nearly 70% of EU migrants surveyed for the quarter October-December 2015, and who arrived between 2005 and 2015, were working in jobs that would not have met the skills-based criteria for admission from a non-EEA country for work. A number of studies of EU8 migrants (who accounted for around a third of the total non-UK born workforce in Scotland in April-June 2016) have found that they are predominantly employed at a lower skill and lower pay level (Scottish Government Social Research, ‘Characteristics and Intentions of Migrants to and Emigrants from Scotland – Review of Existing Evidence’, 2011). Highly skilled migration might well be of benefit to Scotland as to the rest of the UK. However, while this could be catered for by an expansion of the present work permit scheme to include EU migrants, there is no evidence that lower skilled migrants are of overall economic or fiscal benefit to Scotland any more than for the rest of the UK.
3. Much is made of Scotland’s ageing population but high rates of international migration do not provide any long term solution to the demographic and fiscal pressures whichboth Scotland and the UK as a whole will face as a result of ageing populations. As the LSE’s Professor Michael Murphy argues, partly because immigrants age too, ‘immigration is not a long-term solution for population ageing’. Nor are high rates of net migration necessary to ensure population growth in Scotland. 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).
How do these needs vary by sector?
4. Analysis of the LFS suggests that in six of nine broad Scottish industry categories, the proportion of EU-born workers in Quarter 3 2016 was less than for the UK as a whole. In the three categories where the proportion of EU-born workers was higher (‘Banking & Finance’; ‘Distribution, Hotels & Restaurants’ and ‘Other Services’) the share was only slightly larger. In no broad industry sector in Scotland did the proportion of EU-born workers exceed 10% (the largest being ‘Manufacturing’ with 9.9%).
How do these needs compare to other parts of the UK?
5. Scottish employers and industry representatives were asked to say how well UK immigration policy met their needs in a 2014 survey. Those sampled were ‘emphatic’ that Scotland’s employment needs were not different from the rest of the UK, apart from London and the South-East of England (Scottish Government, ‘Impacts of migrants and migration into Scotland’, October 2016).
Does the UK’s current immigration framework adequately provide for Scotland’s needs? If not, how could the UK’s immigration framework be changed to better meet Scotland’s needs?
6. As suggested above, Scotland’s economic needs for immigration are not significantly different from those of the rest of the UK outside London. There is a net inflow each yearfrom other parts of the UK, but around 40,000 people a year move to other parts of the UK – many of whom are young people (the peak age of outward migration is 23-24 years old). In the words of one SNP MP: “People tend to drift away from Scotland.” (Scottish Affairs Committee, September 2016). The peak age for migration to Scotland from other parts of the UK is 19 which, as the Scottish Government has noted, suggests people who are coming to university or perhaps taking up a first job. However, clearly, more needs to be done to encourage young people to remain in Scotland after their studies are complete. As Scottish Secretary David Mundell notes: “The Scottish Government always seem to fail to acknowledge that they have very significant powers to attract people to Scotland. At the moment, about 4% of migrants who come to the United Kingdom go to Scotland…. The Scottish Government need to address that. Making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not, in my view, the way to do it” (Hansard, January 2017).
7. In addition, instead of relying on high inflows of cheap labour from abroad in order to fill vacancies, Scotland’s employers should do more to mobilise the local pool of unused or under-utilised labour by raising pay and improving working conditions. Around 113,000 people are currently unemployed in Scotland (June-August 2017), while (in Jan-Mar 2017) there were 27,000 unemployed people between the ages of 16 and 24 (not including those in full-time education – Scottish Government, ‘Youth unemployment in Scotland’, October 2017).
What post-Brexit immigration arrangements for EU citizens would best meet Scotland’s needs?
8. Some regularly suggest that Scotland should have its own immigration system. However, as Migration Observatory noted in an October 2017 report, while sub-national visa schemes are feasible from an operational perspective, from an economic perspective it is not clear that regional variations would lead to a better match between economic needs and policy design.
9. Our view is that the application of substantially different immigration rules in different parts of the UK after Brexit would be unjustified and impracticable. Such a system would also be extremely complex, distort competition and introduce local anomalies, while undermining the integrity of the UK immigration system. It could even generate a rapid expansion of immigration, leading to a flow to other parts of the UK. This would be of no benefit to Scotland but it would further undermine the effectiveness of and public confidence in the current immigration system.
10. In contrast, Brexit is an opportunity for politicians to finally respond to the views of the Scots (and the rest of the UK public) on immigration. A recent poll found that 63% of Scottish respondents wished to see a significant reduction in net migration. This should involve a reduction in the flow of EU migrants going into lower skilled work and an expansion in the current highly skilled work permit scheme to EU migrants. At the same time it should also be possible to maintain relatively unhindered access for EU students, the self-sufficient and tourists – something that would be in the interests both of the EU and Scotland.