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.

Family migration

Family visas are cross-cutting in support of economic schemes and would help Scotland's communities prosper by encouraging families to put down roots and settle in Scotland.

Humanitarian pathways, described in the next chapter, would also support family reunification.

The Population Strategy sets out, within the thematic element focused on Scotland being 'family friendly', that in order to support our increasingly ageing population, we need to increase the number of younger people living in Scotland. Addressing our falling birth rate, by creating conditions which enable people to have the size of families which they wish to have, is one route to achieve this. An effective family migration policy which helps to meet the needs of Scotland's communities is another.

The Scottish Government commissioned the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population to consider family migration as an important element of the immigration system supporting the Scottish Government's goal of encouraging people to settle permanently in Scotland. They report that most migrants in Scotland (60%) live in families.[117] This is higher than the proportion for the Scottish-born population and reflects the younger age structure of migrants. A high proportion of migrants are educated to degree level and migrant households (particularly those with two or more members born abroad) are more likely to have more than one member with a degree – suggesting a greater proportion of highly qualified couples.

The Expert Advisory Group report on family migration[118] made ten recommendations across the wider policy landscape, including on employment support, public services, employment and housing. The report made two recommendations specific to the immigration system, which this government would seek to implement in an independent Scotland.

First, the minimum income requirement for family migration would be removed. Applicants currently need to earn £18,600 to sponsor a partner and earn an additional £3,800 for a first child and £2,400 for each subsequent child.[119] The Westminster government introduced this requirement in 2012 as part of its 'hostile environment' approach, which effectively prices some families out of being able to move to Scotland based on their income. In 2022, 25.3% of Scottish employees earned less than £18,600 and 42.0% earned less than £24,800.[120] In other words, around a quarter of Scottish employees would be unable to meet the income requirement to sponsor a partner or spouse, and around two fifths would not be able to meet the income requirement for a family of four, sponsoring a partner or spouse and two children.

Second, the fees and the administrative burden of moving from a family visa to become settled in Scotland would be reduced. As with almost all aspects of the immigration system, the fees charged by the Westminster government are far more than the cost of delivery.[121] A new Scottish system could ensure that services are charged at a level to recover the cost of processing applications, rather than generating excess revenue.

Family migration visas would be available to close family of:

  • Scottish, Irish and British citizens
  • EU citizens with settled status prior to Scotland rejoining the EU
  • people of any nationality who are settled in Scotland
  • anyone with a visa that permits family migration (most visas of 12 months duration or more)

For example, this could be a person who is:

  • the partner of someone with the right to reside in Scotland
  • the dependent child (under 18 years of age) of someone with the right to reside in Scotland
  • the parent of a dependent child with the right to reside in Scotland
  • in some circumstances, a dependent adult relative (parent or child) of someone with the right to reside in Scotland

Additionally, we would permit adult children under 21 years of age who reside with the family group to enter and remain in Scotland on a child visa. Children would be able to transfer on to another visa, if eligible, to remain in Scotland to work or study as they grow older and leave the family unit.

We would also enable migrants who have joined their British or settled partners in Scotland to obtain settlement and naturalise after a three-year residence period as was the case under UK legislation prior to the 2012 implementation of the then Home Secretary Therea May's hostile environment immigration policies.

Humanitarian routes, described in the next chapter, would also offer family reunification on a similar basis.

When Scotland is an EU member state, free movement rules would provide for family migration of citizens exercising treaty rights. We would put in place a parallel process for EU citizens to register family members in line with EU law.



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