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.

Safe, orderly and regular migration

The Scottish Government has a clear vision for migration policy: a coherent immigration system which is simple to understand and navigate and which works as a whole system focused

on meeting Scotland's needs. That includes the needs of all who live here – permanently or temporarily, from birth or as migrants. This whole-system, needs-based, approach builds on detailed thinking about migration policy, the operation of free movement and a humane, collaborative approach to asylum and protection.

Our 2020 paper set out a vision for reform of the immigration system, with practical tailored policy proposals to provide solutions to address Scotland's specific needs.[65] That built on evidence and engagement following our 2018 discussion paper, which explored why migration is crucial to Scotland's future prosperity and how current Westminster government migration policy was not appropriate for Scotland.[66]

After the EU referendum, in which a majority in Scotland voted to remain, the Scottish Government repeatedly set out how free movement of people as part of the European single market benefits Scotland's demography, economy and society, most comprehensively in 'Scotland's Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment' in 2018.[67]

The New Scots refugee integration strategy sets out a vision for a welcoming Scotland where refugees and people seeking asylum can rebuild their lives from the day they arrive.[68] The strategy aims to support better access to essential services such as education, housing, health and employment. It recognises the skills, knowledge and resilience which refugees bring and aims to help people to settle, become part of the community, and pursue their ambitions. We will also learn from our recent experience of supporting people displaced by conflict in Ukraine. Scottish Ministers deplore the inhumane policy of deporting to Rwanda vulnerable people seeking asylum in the UK.[69] The right to claim asylum is guaranteed by international law.[70]

Vision, values and principles

The Scottish Government's aim is to ensure population growth in Scotland supports our sustainable, vibrant, and resilient communities and drives improvements in inclusive growth. Our vision for migration policy is to attract people who can make a positive contribution to our economy, communities and public services and support people who need our help to make a new life in Scotland. This vision is underpinned by values of dignity, fairness and respect.[71]

Policy design should follow the seven principles outlined in previous Scottish Government papers on migration:[72]

  • migration policy should address the needs of all of Scotland, including those areas most at risk of depopulation
  • migration policy should encourage and enable long-term settlement in Scotland, welcoming people with the range of skills we need to work, raise families and make a positive contribution to society
  • Scotland should be able to attract talented and committed people from Europe and across the world to work and study here without excessive barriers and our migration policy should support mobility, collaboration and innovation
  • migration policy should support fair work, protecting workers' rights, pay and access to employment and preventing exploitation and abuse
  • people who are entitled to live in Scotland – international migrants, UK citizens and others covered by the Common Travel Area – should be able to bring close family with them

and migrants should have access to services and support to encourage integration into communities

  • the migration system should be easy to access and understand and focused on what a prospective migrant can contribute, not on their ability to pay – therefore fees and charges should be proportionate
  • migration should be controlled to deter and prevent abuse, fraud and criminal activity, including terrorism, human trafficking and other serious offences

The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy[73] set out five principles to support integration of refugees in communities in Scotland:

  • integration from day one – the key principle of the New Scots strategy is that refugees and people seeking asylum should be supported to integrate into communities from day one of arrival, and not just once leave to remain has been granted
  • a rights-based approach – empower people to know about their rights and understand how to exercise them
  • refugee involvement – actively encourage refugees and people seeking asylum to be involved in helping to shape the strategy and its delivery through their lived experience
  • inclusive communities – support refugees, people seeking asylum and our communities to be involved in building stronger, resilient communities, which enable everyone to be active citizens
  • partnership and collaboration – work collaboratively across government, organisations and community groups all over Scotland involved in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum

Taken together, these principles, values and this vision describe how this Scottish Government would approach the design and delivery of policy across the whole of the borders, immigration and citizenship system in an independent Scotland. They are rooted in Scotland's National Performance Framework, touching on kindness, dignity and compassion, respect for the rule of law, and openness and transparency.[74]

From migration to settlement

The Scottish Government's citizenship and migration policy priority is to encourage people to live and work permanently in Scotland, to maintain Scotland's vibrant society, helping to address demographic challenges, supporting communities up and down the country, and contributing to a fairer, greener economy and to our public services.

For many people, migration is a temporary arrangement before returning home or moving elsewhere for new opportunities. The Scottish Government would put in place an immigration system that meets that need, with specific, streamlined routes in cases such as short-term study, temporary and seasonal work, corporate transfers and secondments. A generous entry allowance of six months would be maintained under general visitor rules.

However, migration does not always have to be transient. We want to attract people who have the desire to make Scotland their home and encourage them to put down roots here through work, study, family and life in their community. All the long-term visa routes in the Scottish immigration system should therefore offer a pathway to settlement within five years. Medium- term routes, such as student visas, would not provide for settlement automatically but would allow for easy switching onto routes that do, such as an enhanced post-study work offer.

Short term routes, like seasonal and temporary work visas, would not come with a pathway to settlement from the outset, but options for returning guest workers could be explored and consulted on so that individuals could eventually build a residence entitlement.

The pathways to citizenship that are not transitional after independence would be linked to residence in Scotland. A person would have to be settled in Scotland, for the purposes of Scottish immigration and nationality law, to become a Scottish citizen. This would encourage attachment and integration in communities and ensure that people who choose to become Scottish citizens and enjoy the advantages that offers are also people who are committed to contributing to social, cultural and economic life in Scotland.

Race equality and equity for the Global South

This Scottish Government would pay particular attention in developing migration policy to ensure equity for the Global South, which broadly refers to the regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Approaches to immigration in the Global North can often,

through combinations of post-colonial legacies, unconscious and conscious bias, and systemic or institutional racism, lead to discriminatory outcomes for people from minority ethnic backgrounds. This is true in the UK and was highlighted acutely in the scandal of the treatment of people of the Windrush generation.

The Windrush scandal predominantly affected British citizens born in the UK, rather than migrants; and it is not the only example of discriminatory outcomes for minority ethnic people in the immigration and citizenship system. Windrush was, however, subject to an extensive review undertaken by Wendy Williams, which offers valuable insight into interactions between race and immigration policy.[75]

This government would seek to create systems that foster fairness and justice between the North and the South by addressing imbalances caused by historical inequalities and power dynamics.

To ensure robust regulation of these systems this government would:

  • ensure that Wendy Williams' recommendations for improvement are reflected in the immigration policy of an independent Scotland
  • introduce a Migrants' Commissioner, to be responsible for speaking up for migrants and those affected by the system
  • put in place empowered external scrutiny of migration policy, in an equivalent and enhanced role to that of the UK Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Policy coherence for sustainable development, ensuring that Scottish migration policy does not inadvertently harm partner countries in the Global South, would be key.[76] Scotland's migration policy should not undermine development objectives by reducing economic and state capacity – 'brain drain' – in partner countries as a consequence of facilitating emigration from marginal communities. For example, World Health Organization guidelines adopted by NHS Scotland limit recruitment of health and social care roles from particular countries,[77] unless agreements are in place to provide technical and financial assistance to these countries as they strengthen their health systems.

This appropriate protection for countries in the Global South would be balanced with an approach to migration policy that offers opportunities for people who want to make Scotland their home and confronts inherent or unconscious biases that act as discriminatory barriers. This government would work closely with migrant communities in Scotland as new migration routes were introduced and, in particular, follow a person-centred approach which is intended to allow for a broader range of characteristics to support an application to live and work in Scotland.

Regional and global context

Scotland's policy on migration would interact at a regional level, both within the Common Travel Area and the EU, and at a global level.

The Scottish Government's proposals on citizenship set out how the rights of Scottish citizens in the Common Travel Area would continue after independence.[78] Being part of the Common Travel Area would see Scotland cooperate with the UK and Ireland on matters to do with migration and border control. Each country would be responsible for its own migration policy, designed to suit the needs of its own economy and communities. But future governments of Scotland would talk and collaborate on effective border security as equal partners with both the UK and Ireland to protect the Common Travel Area.

As an EU member state, although because of the Common Travel Area Scotland would not be part of the border control elements of the Schengen Agreement, we would collaborate on EU migration policy. This government would fully participate in EU refugee resettlement and relocation initiatives, taking our place in the EU's decision-making process, as a member in our own right, reflecting Scotland's values and goals.

Scotland is, and will continue to be, a good global citizen which respects its international commitments and welcomes people from all over the world. As an independent country, we would be active participants in global cooperation to respond to current and emerging issues in migration and displacement.

As an independent country, Scotland would be able to adopt a principled approach in these regional and global forums and join or lead coalitions of shared interests to support progressive development of regional and international cooperation on managing migration. As a newly independent state, Scotland would also be able to decide whether to carry forward any of the UK's declarations and reservations which qualify the extent to which the provisions of some treaties currently apply. The Scottish Government disagrees, for example, with the UK Government's decision to exempt migrant women from the protections afforded by the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Scotland would also be able to learn from international partners with experience of managing immigration to support communities and economic growth in all parts of their country. Canada, for example, has experienced some success in regional immigration programmes targeting inward migration and population growth to the benefit of rural provinces and territories.[79]

Independence would allow Scotland to comprehensively reject the enduring 'hostile environment' approach taken by the current Westminster government and to create a more humane and dignified asylum system. The Westminster government has undermined international norms, and has attracted significant criticism, following recent changes to immigration legislation and its management of the UK asylum system. Both the Scottish

Parliament and the Welsh Senedd refused legislative consent for the Nationality and Borders Bill,[80] which was enacted by the Westminster government regardless.[81] The Scottish Parliament motion withholding consent noted its concern with "proposals in the Bill for differential treatment of refugees based on how they arrived rather than their protection needs, measures that criminalise vulnerable people seeking protection, 'push-back' provisions that will put lives at sea at risk and open the door for offshore asylum accommodation, and powers to revoke citizenship without notice."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, responded to passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill with "regret that the British government's proposals for a new approach to asylum that undermines established international refugee protection law and practices has been approved".[82] He went on to say that "the UK's intention to externalize its obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers to other countries… run counter to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a party".

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament also clearly stated their objections to the Illegal Migration Act, while it was progressed at pace by the Westminster government.[83] It has made significant and sweeping changes to UK immigration legislation, which have increased the complexity of asylum processes and targeted people seeking asylum rather than improving the asylum system.



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