A tailored migration system for Scotland

“Overwhelming case” for Scotland-specific system.

Scotland’s population projections show there is an ‘overwhelming case’ for Scotland to have the power to tailor its own migration policy, External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop has said.

With the number of deaths expected to outweigh the number of births for every year until 2040, action is required to maintain and grow Scotland's working age population to help support the welcome fact that people are living longer.

A new Scottish Government discussion paper on migration looks in detail at the impact that falling migration levels would have on Scotland’s economy and what a devolved migration policy could look like.   

The paper sets out ways in which the Scottish Government could be given a greater say on UK migration policy in support of Scotland’s needs, as well as options for a Scotland-specific migration system, including:

  • Scottish ministers to set specific criteria to address Scotland’s needs, rather than arbitrary caps on numbers
  • A new Scottish body could be set up to administer the policy
  • Devolved powers to make it easier for migrants’ family members, and those of UK citizens, to join them in Scotland.

The discussion paper found that by 2040, lower migration alone would reduce Scotland’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 4.5% - equivalent to a fall of almost £5 billion a year. The reduction across the rest of the UK would be 3.7%, demonstrating the Scottish economy’s greater reliance on migration.

In a ‘worst case scenario’ where migration is reduced to tens of thousands, the cost to the Scottish economy could be £10 billion per year by 2040.

The paper also identifies specific differences in the migration needs of Scotland and the UK including:

  • The importance of migration to help grow our working age population
  • The value of inward migration to rural Scotland, where it helps sustain employment and essential public services in rural communities
  • A need for migration routes to Scotland that allow for and promote long-term settlement, rather than just short-term work visas, to help support demographic sustainability.

Launching the paper on a visit to Outplay Entertainment, a games company in Dundee with a high ratio of skilled workers from overseas, Ms Hyslop said:

“In the absence of clarity from the UK Government on what migration policy will be post-Brexit, this paper looks in some detail at Scotland’s population needs and how they can be achieved.

“It is clear that the UK Government’s plans to reduce migration would not support Scotland’s economy or our population needs – all of Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration. So this paper sets out what a devolved migration system could look like, and the principles we would follow.

“Inward migration does not just bring economic benefits. By welcoming people to live, work and study in Scotland we can strengthen our society and enrich our lives.

“Migrants contribute to our economy by bringing new skills and fresh approaches. Without their contribution Scotland’s economic growth will suffer. Scotland’s economy is heavily reliant on inward migration – particularly of  workers with the skills we particularly need, like those I met today in Dundee.

“This paper demonstrates that it simply does not make sense to set arbitrary targets to reduce net migration, or to end free movement of people by leaving the single market.

“There is now an overwhelmingly strong case for Scotland to have the power to tailor its own migration policy to reflect its own unique circumstances. Indeed, there is a growing consensus that this is the only logical step in the face of UK Government policy which is determined to restrict the number of people who can choose to make Scotland their home.”


The Programme for Government contained a commitment to publish a series of discussion papers setting out the case for further extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in a number of key areas – including migration.

‘Scotland’s Place in Europe: People Jobs and Investment’ clearly set out the impact of migration on GDP. By 2030 productivity and migration will account for 60% and 26% respectively of the difference in GDP between a WTO scenario and the full EU membership scenario.

New economic modelling in today’s discussion paper bears this out by showing the loss to Scotland’s GDP through reduced migration.

Read the migration paper in full.  


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