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.

Helping Scotland prosper

On the first day of independence, free movement within Scotland would be retained for citizens of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man as part of the Common Travel Area. Free Movement for EU citizens would be re-introduced on Scotland rejoining the EU as a member state. Many other migrants in Scotland would arrive on a discretionary route which they have to apply for, and which would be designed for people who wish to live, work, study, visit or invest

in Scotland or to join their family here. Any managed immigration system implemented by this government would be based on the values of dignity, fairness and respect at all stages of the migrant journey.

Policy priorities for independence

A new 'Live in Scotland' visa would allow people to live and work in Scotland with their families without sponsorship by an employer. As part of a wider Scottish immigration system, this would be a person-centred route, giving credit for a broad range of characteristics that an individual can bring to Scotland, not just how much they earn.

The 'Live in Scotland' route would incorporate a place-based element designed to support migration to rural and island communities within Scotland. This would build on our experience developing pilot proposals for rural visas.[96]

In addition, an employer-led approach to migration through a 'Sponsored Worker' visa would remain an important element of our system, ensuring that businesses and public services have straightforward access to the essential talent they need.

This government would introduce a further new visa route – a 'Scottish Connections' visa. This would allow people with a genuine and lasting connection to Scotland to remain or return here, to live and work and offer a pathway to permanent settlement and Scottish citizenship.

At the point of independence, there would be many people living in Scotland on a UK visa, or who are settled in the UK but are not citizens. For a transitional period, this government would continue to recognise UK visas and settlement status as giving a right to live and work

in Scotland. All those legally in Scotland at independence would be able to remain in Scotland under the terms of their existing visa or entry. We would work to transition UK settlement status to settlement in Scotland. When UK visas expire, holders would be expected to apply for a new visa or extension, or for settlement, under Scottish immigration rules. They would not need to get a Scottish visa straight away.

Scottish migration system

This Scottish Government believes that immigration policy should be made according to the needs of Scotland's economy, public services and communities, and should have dignity, fairness and respect at the heart of how it deals with people navigating the system.

Reducing the cost and complexity of the immigration system would be a key priority. Visa fees would be set at a level that ensures full cost recovery but does not seek to generate excessive revenue. The Westminster government sets fees for visas and other immigration services to generate revenue – the current performance target is to recover 149% of costs through charges.[97] The Scottish Government would develop a charging regime for visa services in an open and transparent way.

The Westminster government publishes quarterly data on fees and unit costs in the border, immigration and citizenship system. This illustrates the vast discrepancy between costs the Home Office incurs and the fees charged to applicants. For example, the primary fee payable by a migrant arriving on a skilled worker visa with the intention to remain long-term in the UK is

£1,420. The data published in October 2023 estimate the unit cost, or the amount it costs the Home Office to deliver that service, to be just £129.[98] This could mean a saving of over £1,000 per applicant for a skilled worker visa.

In an independent Scotland, charges would be set at a reasonable level to recover costs and not price out individuals or families who want to come to Scotland to live and work simply because they cannot pay for it.

The Scottish Government would offer visas supporting population objectives and economic growth across five categories:

  • live: long-term residence routes with no sponsorship
  • work: work-based routes sponsored by an employer
  • study: student routes sponsored by an educational establishment
  • visit: short-term entry, including tourism, seasonal work and working holidays
  • invest: routes targeted to support inward investment and job creation

These visa categories would form the core pillars of a managed, discretionary immigration system that would help Scotland's economy prosper and allow the best global talent to join businesses, public services and universities across Scotland.

'Live in Scotland' route

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 sponsorship by an employer, if they meet criteria set out in Scottish immigration rules.

As part of a wider Scottish immigration system, this Live in Scotland visa would be a person- centred route, giving credit for a broad range of characteristics that would include 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. It would look at what an individual can bring to Scotland, not just how much they earn. This would translate the proposal for a Scottish visa in the UK immigration system into a central component of the immigration system of an independent Scotland.

In collaboration with local and national delivery partners, communities and our Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, we would pilot place-based options within the Live in Scotland visa route to help ensure communities in rural and island locations in Scotland remain vibrant and flourishing. The Scottish Government is clear that Scotland needs a migration policy which works for all parts of Scotland, delivering on the ambition which Scottish Ministers set out in the Population Strategy.[99] As part of this, testing approaches to a place-based approach to immigration would enable new families to come to these communities, build their lives here and in turn support local employment and public services.

A new 'Scottish Connections' visa would also be introduced. This would allow people with a genuine and lasting connection to Scotland to remain or return here to live and work and offer a pathway to permanent settlement and Scottish citizenship. There are multiple connections that could qualify someone for this visa – the route would be open to anyone who meets at least one of these initial criteria:

  • Scottish Graduate – a graduate of a Scottish university who studied in Scotland for their degree
  • Scottish Ancestry – a child or grandchild of someone who is automatically a Scottish citizen or would have been eligible to acquire Scottish citizenship automatically had they been alive at the point of independence
  • life in Scotland – previous lawful residence in Scotland of at least five years
  • British Nationality – a British national who is not a British citizen

The visa would be available for five years, after which settlement would become available, leading to naturalisation as a Scottish citizen if the applicant chooses it. People who live overseas would be able to return to Scotland on this route, and we intend to reduce the associated application fee if the applicant is already lawfully resident in Scotland on another visa or permission, such as a Student Visa.

Therefore, international graduates of Scottish universities would be able to apply at low cost straight after their studies to stay in Scotland to live and work for a further five years, after which they would become eligible for settlement, potentially leading to naturalisation as a citizen. This would replace the two-year post-study work visa the Westminster government currently offers.

The Scottish Connections visa would also replace a number of other existing visa routes in the UK immigration system, including the Ancestry and British National (Overseas) visa routes.

Anyone who was eligible for the equivalent UK visa routes to live in Scotland would be eligible for the Scottish Connections visa.

In particular, British nationals (overseas) and their eligible descendants would have at least the same ability to live and work in Scotland through this route as they do now under UK immigration rules. There would be no diminution of the rights of those British nationals and their eligible descendants to come to Scotland after independence.

British and Irish citizens would not need any permission to live and work in Scotland as part of the Common Travel Area – this would allow British nationals who are not British citizens to come to Scotland if they choose, as described in the Building a New Scotland paper on citizenship.[100]

Work in Scotland

An employer-led approach to migration remains an important element of our proposed system, ensuring that businesses and public services would have straightforward access to the essential talent they need. Sponsorship and certification rules would be further simplified by removing unnecessary processes and compliance burdens to allow more employers to interact with the immigration systems. This would allow them to recruit internationally to quality jobs in Scotland that pay the Scottish Living Wage, supporting fair work.

The UK immigration system offers limited temporary work visas in a number of specific categories such as charity workers and religious ministers. These routes would be consolidated and simplified, while ensuring that all currently available categories of worker are able to access equivalent routes in the Scottish immigration system, including seasonal work schemes described later.

Current staff shortages across multiple sectors are largely the result of policy choices made by the Westminster government. The Scottish labour market after independence would differ from the current position, and conditions would change further when Scotland becomes an EU member state and free movement of people resumes. However, there may be a requirement for additional transitional temporary work visas during that period to support critical national infrastructure, including food production, and provision of essential public services such as social care.

Study in Scotland

The Scottish Government wants more international students to be able to study in Scotland, contributing to our economy and our communities.

Scotland has three of the top 200 global universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 – the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow and the University of St Andrews.[101]

International students, academics and research staff in our world-class universities make a vital contribution to Scotland's prosperity. There were a record 301,230 enrolments at Scottish Universities in 2021-22, with a record 183,025 Scottish students. The international student population in Scotland grew by 22% in the five years up to 2021-22 and now has over 82,000 non-UK students from around 170 countries enrolling at Scottish universities, with record numbers of non-EU international students (65,300).[102]

Independence offers Scotland a greater opportunity to attract and retain Scottish and international students after they graduate with the offer that Scotland is a compelling place to live and work, where they can readily apply the skills they have gained from their studies. For every 1,000 graduates in the Scottish labour market, the Scottish Government gains £22.4 million in additional income tax contributions.[103]

We need an immigration system that supports our higher education sector to deliver the best learning, the best research and the best experience for the most able students, anywhere in the world, who choose to study in Scotland. We would remove unnecessary 'hostile environment' measures imposed on the sector and trust our institutions to recruit on the basis of academic excellence.

The Fresh Talent post-study work visa which ran from 2004 to 2008 was the first time the UK immigration system was tailored to meet Scotland's needs.[104] It was subsequently mainstreamed across the whole of the UK, before being abolished by the coalition government in 2012.

Encouraging international graduates of our institutions to live and work in Scotland long-term remains an essential element of our focus on population.

The new five-year 'Scottish Connections' visa (described above) would replace the two-year post- study work visa the Westminster government currently offers. Therefore, international graduates of Scottish universities could apply straight after their studies to stay in Scotland to live and work for a further five years. This would also mean graduates who live overseas can return to Scotland on this route.

Latest OECD data shows that Scotland has a higher share of the population aged 25 to 64 years that has at least tertiary education compared to any EU country included in the data.[105] Our approach to student and graduate immigration routes would strengthen our ability to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce that supports investment and innovation.

Many of our institutions lead the way in vital areas of research with truly global impacts, and Scotland continues to be seen as a desirable location to study and work for talented undergraduates and researchers. In 2021, Scotland ranked top among OECD countries for higher education R&D (HERD) spend as a proportion of GDP.[106] HERD spend as a percentage of GDP in Scotland was 0.98%, ahead of the OECD average of 0.42%.

Almost two in five academic staff at Scottish universities in 2021-22 were non-UK nationals, with almost 20% of all academic staff being EU citizens.[107] We recognise that academic staff (including researchers) are highly skilled and globally mobile. Scottish universities recruit staff from across the world, whilst many Scottish researchers work in institutions in other countries. This Scottish Government would develop an approach to immigration through schemes to live and work in Scotland that would help our institutions attract international talent, supporting their research goals and establishment and development of high growth potential companies.

Visit Scotland

This government would maintain a six-month entry for visitors to Scotland.

At the point of independence, Scotland's rules on which nationalities can arrive in Scotland visa free and which require a visa in advance of travel would match those of the UK.[108] This government would engage bilaterally on reciprocal visa-free travel with international partners and would normally expect the same arrangements to hold for Scotland.

The Scottish Government would also engage with the UK and Ireland to formally cooperate on border control issues and seek to facilitate visitor movement within the Common Travel Area, as set out in the prospectus paper on citizenship.[109]

Inward youth mobility arrangements would also initially be maintained to provide continuity for young people travelling to Scotland.[110] There would be negotiations with partner countries to propose reciprocal youth mobility arrangements, including exploring dialogue with new partners. Ireland, for example, has a working holiday agreement with the USA.[111]

Routes would also be available to support seasonal employment. As well as seeking accession to the EU as a member state, at which point free movement of people would resume, the Scottish Government intends to maintain a seasonal work visa scheme.

In order to strengthen labour rights, workers entering under the scheme would not be tied to a single employer and recruitment would be opened to a wider range of seasonal industries, such as edible and ornamental horticulture, forestry, seafood processing and animal husbandry (including shearing). We also recently published independent research on options to establish protection mechanisms for workers on temporary migration programmes which draws on best practice from countries such as New Zealand and Canada. Industry and labour rights advocates would also be consulted about the design of the scheme and visa conditions, including length of entry and potential to facilitate returns and ability to progress towards permanent residence, which is a feature of seasonal work schemes in other countries.[112]

Invest in Scotland

Scotland's approach to immigration would support businesses to attract and retain the international talent they need to innovate and grow. The range of visa routes to be offered in other categories would provide an extensive and accessible platform to support inward investment, business growth and job creation.

The Scottish Connection proposal would facilitate graduates of Scottish universities entering the labour market in Scotland, while the Sponsored Worker route would enable businesses to recruit directly from overseas quickly and effectively.

The Live in Scotland visa would offer a way for people with a high-potential innovative business idea to bring their skills and energy to Scotland without an existing employer sponsoring them.

The Scottish immigration system would facilitate intra-corporate transfers and secondments. This approach supports inward investment and trade in services. As discussed in the Scottish Government's response to a MAC call for evidence in this area,[113] there is an opportunity for Scotland to grow as a destination of choice for highly skilled staff in global multinationals. This would build on strong financial services and fintech centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as innovative manufacturing centres in sectors such as renewable energy and space technology.

Combined with our highly skilled resident workforce, the ability to recruit freely from the UK and Ireland, and free movement within the EU, the immigration options that we could design after independence would help enhance Scotland's position as a destination of choice for investment.

Focussing on a smaller number of broader routes would simplify the immigration landscape and allow flexible pathways for innovative entrepreneurs to come to Scotland. The Scottish

Government would ensure that people able to access current UK schemes to start a business or support inward investment can do so in the Scottish immigration system.

Partnership work with business, civil society and our enterprise agencies would help ensure that the immigration system supports economic recovery and growth rather than being a barrier to it, while maintaining a managed, controlled approach which commands public confidence.

The Building a New Scotland Fund,[114] announced in the third paper of the BANS series focusing on the economy of an independent Scotland, would invest to meet the diverse economic, social and environmental needs of urban, rural and island areas. Significant investment in affordable housing, including in rural areas, is critical if we are to support all communities to thrive and to address Scotland's projected population decline as part of the UK.

Lessons would be learned from other countries who are also competing internationally to attract investment and talent, including good practice from the UK immigration system such as the promising Scale-Up Visa announced in August 2022.[115] Scotland could consider the case for specific visa routes with features that are successful elsewhere. However, lessons could also be learned from the Westminster government's experience that eventually led it to close an earlier investment visa route due to long-standing concerns about abuse and fraud,[116] as wealthy individuals were essentially able to buy their way into the UK with little oversight.



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