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.

Free movement in the EU

On independence, Scotland would retain free movement within the Common Travel Area, reflecting our longstanding social, cultural, family and economic ties with other parts of the UK and Ireland. Free movement of people within Europe would resume when Scotland re-joined the EU, as a reciprocal right for Scottish citizens to live and work in the EU, and EEA citizens to live and work in Scotland. This government's proposals on citizenship set out how membership of the EU would restore EU citizenship to the people of Scotland.[84] Free movement of people in the EU is an expression of that shared citizenship. The Scottish Government would reaffirm and reinforce that Scotland remains an open, welcoming member of the family of Europe, and values the contribution EU citizens make to our society as it looks forward to rejoining the EU as an independent member state.

After the Brexit vote, EU citizens in Scotland felt safer and more welcome in Scotland than in England, in part because of the Scottish Government's direct messages of reassurance then and since.[85] Their presence in communities across the country has helped make Scotland the modern, dynamic European nation it is today. In the year ending June 2021, there were estimated to be 231,000 EU citizens living in Scotland.[86] Polish remains the top non-UK nationality found in Scotland.

Scotland values the contribution that EU citizens made to our economy, public services and communities, and the Scottish Government took action to provide them with additional support to enable them to stay in Scotland. This took the form of practical advice, delivered in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland,[87] to help them navigate new immigration requirements after Brexit.[88] We look forward to the time when Scotland is an EU member state, and our fellow Europeans can again exercise their rights as EU citizens in Scotland, just as Scottish citizens would be able to do in Europe.

Rights under free movement have expanded over time, building on the initial concept of the free movement of workers to support the Single Market: it now incorporates the concept of EU citizenship, and includes rights to study, seek work, reside self-sufficiently, be accompanied by non-EU family members, and access certain benefits and public services. Rights have been further reinforced by judgments of the European Court of Justice, and consolidated in the 2004 Citizenship Directive, also commonly known as the Free Movement Directive.[89]

The Free Movement Directive provides that for stays of fewer than three months (90 days), the only requirement for citizens of a country inside the European Single Market to move and reside in other member states is that they possess a valid identity document or passport.

If EU and EEA citizens choose to exercise their right to freedom of movement for stays of more than three months, they must be:

  • employed
  • self-employed
  • seeking work
  • studying
  • self-sufficient or
  • a family member of a citizen exercising those rights

These requirements are to prevent placing an additional cost on the social protection systems of host nations. Generally, however, EU citizens have equal access to benefits and public services as nationals, although there are some restrictions. In the UK before Brexit, for example, jobseekers had limited access to Jobseeker's Allowance and could only claim after their three- month initial period of residence.[90] During those first three months, it was the responsibility of their home nation to provide jobseeker support.

The Free Movement Directive also provides that EU member states may refuse entry to, or in certain cases remove, EU citizens of other member states on grounds of public policy (such as criminality), public security or public health; or in the event of abuse of rights or fraud.

Furthermore, member states can restrict the free movement of citizens of new EU member states, for a limited period after a new country joins the EU. The UK opted not to exercise these controls for the 2004 accession of eight new member states, mostly from central and eastern Europe.[91]

It did exercise transitional controls for the subsequent accessions of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007,[92] whose nationals only gained full free movement rights within the UK from 2014, and again for Croatia on accession in 2013.[93] Most other member states applied transitional restrictions to these accessions.[94]

Free movement is a reciprocal right enjoyed by all EU citizens and EEA nationals. There are rules and controls built into the EU treaties which determine how an EU citizen is able to exercise their right to free movement. These same limitations and restrictions on the exercise of the right of free movement of people would apply equally to Scottish citizens seeking to live, work or study in other EU member states, as it would to the Europeans we would welcome to Scotland.

Scotland has benefitted greatly from the contribution of EU citizens. As we resume free movement of people as an integral part of EU law, we respect the need for measured and proportionate controls to safeguard against fraud, abuse, security threats and criminality and we support the proper enforcement of those rules. These controls already exist in the framework enabling free movement of people.

This government's proposals on citizenship also set out how we would continue to protect the rights of EU citizens in Scotland who have secured EU Settled Status under the Westminster government scheme after Brexit.[95]



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