The contribution of EEA citizens to Scotland: response to the Migration Advisory Committee call for evidence

This paper sets out the latest evidence on the contribution that EEA citizens make to Scotland.


Our position

Inward migration, including from across the European Union ( EU), has made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to Scotland's economy and society. Migrants play a vital part in ensuring that we remain a diverse and outward-looking country that is open to the world. We welcome those coming to visit and those coming to work and settle here, to establish their lives and raise their families, and to contribute to Scotland.

EU migration to Scotland is essential for ensuring sustainable population growth, which is the single biggest driver of our economic growth. All of the projected increase in Scotland's population over the next 10 years is projected to come from migration (58% of net in-migration is projected to come from overseas and 42% from the rest of the UK). This contrasts to the UK as a whole, where 54% of population increase is expected to come from overseas migration, with the other 46% coming from positive natural change (more births than deaths) over the next 10 years. If net migration to the UK were to fall, Scotland's population growth could be disproportionately affected, as it relies solely on migration, with natural change (the number of births minus the number of deaths) projected to be negative each year going forward. By 2041 it is projected that there will be over 10,000 more deaths than births in Scotland.

EU migration supports Scotland's economy, ensuring the availability of a pool of labour, both now and in the future, to meet the needs of employers and businesses right across the Scottish economy and across all sectors, including those as diverse as agriculture and fisheries, tourism and culture, healthcare and education. It is important to note that this is within a wider context of low unemployment across Scotland and particularly in rural areas. Scotland's unemployment rate, at 4.5%, is lower than the UK average of 4.6% [1] .

EU migration supports rural communities and jobs, bringing essential labour to rural industries and supporting public services including healthcare and schools.

The Scottish Government continues to believe that maintaining free movement of persons, as part of the single market, is in the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole and of Scotland. The evidence that we provide, drawn from across the Scottish economy, supports this view. EU citizens make a vital contribution and their right to live, work, study and invest here must be protected. Freedom of movement is a flexible and responsive mechanism that allows the flow of labour to adapt easily to changes in demand for labour while minimising the burden on employers and individuals.

With regards to migration from outside the EU, it has been clear for some time that the one-size-fits-all approach to immigration policy in the UK is no longer sustainable in the face of different economic and demographic needs across the UK. We welcome the recognition by the Migration Advisory Committee of the potential for regional variations in the migration system and note their view that this requires further analysis. The Scottish Government believes that a regional immigration model is not only workable, but essential to meet Scotland's needs. This reflects the commitment made by the Scottish Government in "A Nation with Ambition: The Government's Programme for Scotland 2017-2018" [2] , to making the case for flexibilities within the immigration system to ensure that Scotland's needs can be met, including making better use of the shortage occupation list and reinstating a more accessible post-study work route.

About this paper

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's response to the call for evidence launched by the UK Migration Advisory Committee ( MAC) on the economic and social impacts of the UK's exit from the European Union and on how the UK's immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy.

This paper follows the structure of that call for evidence, as set out below:

  • Chapter one provides an overview of the trends in migration from the rest of the EU to Scotland, the profile of EU migrants working in Scotland and the critical role that EU migration plays in meeting Scotland's current and future demographic needs.
  • Chapter two provides evidence on the contribution of EU workers to addressing recruitment, training and skills needs across the Scottish economy, highlighting key sectors: tourism and hospitality; cultural and creative industries; the digital and technology sector; financial services; manufacturing, distribution and construction and the third sector. It also provides evidence on the significant contribution made by EU workers to Scotland's public services, particularly health, social care and education.
  • Chapter three addresses the economic, social and fiscal impacts of EU migration on Scotland. It highlights the vital role of EU migration in supporting Scotland's rural economy and communities, including some of the most remote and fragile communities in the UK.

The analytical annex which accompanies this paper follows the same structure, and provides a fuller account of the evidence, drawing on the most robust and reliable data available. It is important to note the underlying characteristics in the available evidence base, and how essential it is to pay close attention to definitions and classifications used across various data collections. We anticipate that work will be required to enhance the precision of data, using key classifications (for example between 'citizens' and 'nationals'), in order to allow Governments and delivery agencies to assess current entitlements and contributions, anticipate impacts and plan policy adjustments.

The evidence presented in this paper clearly shows the impact of migration on the Scottish economy and society. Stimulating population growth is a key driver of sustainable economic growth and 100% of Scotland's population growth is projected to come from migration. Changes in migration policy therefore have the potential to significantly impact on key Scottish economic sectors and indeed on wider economic prospects. Policy therefore needs to take account of existing evidence, and be monitored and evaluated. This paper and the accompanying annex set out that clear evidence base.


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