Building a New Scotland: migration to Scotland after independence

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for migration policy in an independent Scotland.


This summary presents the Scottish Government’s proposals for migration policy in an independent Scotland. It:

  • sets out our vision for a humane and principled migration policy after independence, welcoming New Scots who want to contribute to our economy and our communities
  • describes how people seeking asylum and refugees would be welcomed and integrated into our communities, and treated with dignity and respect

This summary is available in other versions:

British Sign Language

The report that follows provides more details on these proposals, an analysis of the evidence that informs them, as well as references to sources.


Scotland has been shaped by migration and, historically, that has meant young Scots leaving home to build their lives elsewhere. But recent migration, especially European Union (EU) migration over the past 20 years, has helped change this. Scotland has gone from being a net exporter of people, with projected population decline, to a country with a growing population, a greater international outlook and a culturally richer and more diverse society.

However, that is now at risk as a result of the Westminster government's 'hostile environment' approach to migration and the failure of UK immigration policy to address Scotland's distinct population situation.

UK migration policy is also damaging to business and the wider economy. Emerging evidence suggests that some sectors – food and drink, for example – are experiencing worker shortages and are struggling to fill vacancies.

Despite the positive migration story over recent years, the population of Scotland is again projected to begin to fall within the next decade. We need solutions for this and for broader demographic change because Scotland's population, like that of many other developed countries, is ageing.

Indeed, Scotland is the only UK nation where the overall population and the working age population are projected to decline.

A new approach

Independence would give Scotland control over migration policy to help grow its population. We would devise a humane, dignified and principled migration system and comprehensively reject Westminster's 'hostile environment'.

The proposals in this paper aim to deliver positive outcomes for our communities and public services and, crucially, for the people who want to live, work and raise their families in Scotland. As well as enriching Scotland culturally, people who have chosen to live and work here are helping to grow our economy – they help address skills shortages within key sectors and make an essential contribution to our population growth.

This government's approach would also be rooted in equity for the Global South. We would learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal and ensure robust protection of migrants' rights. This includes removing discriminatory barriers so that people from the Global South have equitable access to the Scottish migration system.

On independence, this government would maintain free movement within the Common Travel Area, reflecting our longstanding ties with our closest neighbours in the UK and Ireland.

Once Scotland is able to rejoin the EU, free movement of people within Europe would resume as a reciprocal right for Scottish citizens to live and work in the European Economic Area (EEA) and EEA citizens to live and work in Scotland.

New visa routes

With independence, for people who will not enjoy free movement rights, the Scottish Government would offer a range of visa routes supporting people to live, work or study in Scotland, or visit or invest here.

The main 'Live in Scotland' route would be a new type of visa, allowing people to live and work in Scotland with their families without employer sponsorship, if they meet criteria set out in the Scottish immigration rules. This visa would give credit for a broad range of characteristics

including age, education, skills and work experience, earning potential and language ability – and could include the opportunity to be credited for Gaelic as well as English. The Live in Scotland route would also incorporate a place-based element, supporting migration to rural and island communities within Scotland, therefore helping to tackle depopulation.

A new 'Scottish connections' visa would provide an immediate route post-independence for people with a connection to Scotland to return or remain here. This includes:

  • people with previous lawful residence in Scotland of at least five years
  • people with an ancestral connection through a parent or grandparent, adapting the UK Ancestry visa route, currently open only to Commonwealth citizens
  • graduates who studied in Scotland for their degree, adapting and significantly expanding the UK Graduate visa route
  • British nationals who are not British citizens, adapting and slightly expanding the UK British National (Overseas) visa for Hong Kong to also include the much smaller number of nationals of UK overseas territories

This would be a five-year visa route, leading to settlement and citizenship if desired.

The 'Work in Scotland' route would retain an employer-sponsored visa route, with simplified rules to allow more employers to interact with the immigration system and allow them to recruit internationally. We would also continue with and expand a seasonal worker visa route, removing the need for workers to be tied to a single employer, reducing the likelihood of exploitation.

In terms of attracting international students, the new five-year Scottish Connections visa would replace the two-year post-study work visa currently offered by the UK Government. This means international graduates of Scottish universities could apply straight after their studies to stay in Scotland to live and work for a further five years.

On family visas, this government would remove the minimum income requirement for family migration, introduced as part of the Westminster government's 'hostile environment' approach. This would make it easier for families to choose Scotland as a place to live, also supporting family reunification.

The complexity of the immigration system would also be reduced for applicants, with visa fees being set at a level that ensures full cost recovery but does not seek to generate revenue. This could mean a saving of over £1,000 for an individual applying for a skilled worker long-term visa, compared to current UK levels. Sponsored working visas under three years, visas for shortage occupations and health and care visas are significantly cheaper but still above the cost of providing the service, so would still represent a saving to the applicant.

A new approach to refugee and asylum policy

In an independent Scotland, this government would also make changes to asylum and refugee policy, rooting both systems in human rights and equality principles and the rule of law. There would be an emphasis on integration and support – in line with our New Scots strategy – from day one of their arrival.

Unlike current UK policy, people seeking asylum would have the right to work, have access to employability support and to public assistance through, for example our social security system, reducing the likelihood of destitution.

Those granted refugee status would be granted settlement status in Scotland. This would support longer-term integration and reduce the need for refugees to have to go through additional administrative processes to stay in Scotland on a permanent basis.

Finally, safe and legal routes would be available for displaced people and refugees, in part as recognition of the growing issue of climate refugees. This government would commit to engaging with partner countries and communities at risk of displacement from climate change to explore whether a humanitarian visa would play a part in our wider approach to climate justice.


Migration is an issue of central importance to Scotland's economy, to the wellbeing of our communities, to the success of our businesses, and to the sustainability of our public services.

Independence would offer the opportunity to ensure that migration policy is set according to Scotland's needs so that Scotland can thrive.



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