Migration: helping Scotland prosper

Paper detailing how a tailored migration policy, within a UK framework, could operate to meet Scotland's distinct needs.

Annex C: Learning from international examples

Fish Farmer
Pictured in Fort William
Born in Latvia

Photo of Rolands, Fish Farmer, Pictured in Fort William, Born in Latvia

The Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population looked at international examples of regional immigration programmes. These more detailed case studies on the Canadian and Australian schemes are extracted from their November 2019 report.

Canadian Provincial Nominee Programmes (PNPs)

For a number of decades, Canadian economic migration policy has been explicitly targeted at meeting demographic goals. Provincial Nominee Programmes (PNPs) were developed at the behest of Provinces and Territories, reflecting concerns about the uneven distribution of immigration across Canada and the high proportion of migrants who were moving to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. PNPs comprise a range of programmes, many of which are points-based, explicitly designed to meet differential labour market needs and to promote population growth across Canadian provinces and territories. Since the first permanent PNP agreements were signed in the early 2000s, all Canadian provinces and territories except Nunavut and Quebec operate their own PNP. Quebec has a specific agreement, the Canada-Quebec Accord, in which the province is responsible for most aspects of migrant selection and integration.

Bilateral PNP agreements between the federal government and the province/territory allow the latter to nominate a certain number of immigrants, generally selected based on their skills, experience and demographic characteristics. As such, these programmes are predominantly human capital-based, although in many cases there is an employer-led element, as a job offer is seen as a way of proving a clear link and intention to settle in the province. Indeed, there is a trend towards ‘hybridisation’ of human capital and employer-led approaches. Those admitted through PNP schemes are generally ‘skilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’ workers, temporary foreign workers already in Canada, business investors, families of PNP migrants, and international student graduates. 

How It Works 

Provinces develop a set of criteria by which they can nominate certain migrants who can then progress through a fast-tracked process towards permanent residency status. These criteria may change from year to year, based on varying needs or new priorities in the province. These changes are negotiated and agreed with the federal government. 

All PNPs have both a skilled worker and business stream. However, many also offer streams for workers at a range of skills and qualifications levels. For example, the Saskatchewan and Alberta PNPs both offered channels for workers with lower qualifications (for example trucking, hotel and lodging, food processing, and food services industries in Alberta). 

Nominees are granted extensive rights, including the eligibility to apply for permanent residence for themselves and their families, subject to criminal background and medical checks. Once they have become permanent residents, they receive access to social benefits and health care coverage, and the right to live, work or study anywhere in Canada. The right to free movement within Canada is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After three years of permanent residence, residents may apply for Canadian citizenship. Nominees may also be eligible to apply for a work permit while the permanent residence application is being processed. If the nomination is based on a job-offer, they receive a closed employer-specific work permit.

Manitoba Provincial Nominee Programme

To provide a more specific case, we examine the Manitoba PNP. It is the most extensive PNP, with 24.2% of provincial nominees coming to Manitoba and is often seen as a ‘model’ PNP. The first Manitoba PNP began as a programme to bring garment workers to Winnipeg, and has since expanded to address labour shortages in other sectors including construction, mechanic work, welding, engineering, trucking, biotechnology and manufacturing. 

The Manitoba PNP has three streams: the Skilled Worker Stream (which comprises the Skilled Worker in Manitoba and Skilled Worker Overseas categories); the International Education Stream; and the Business Investor Stream. The Skilled Worker Stream is targeted towards a list of ‘in-demand occupations’, which is extensive. The occupations list also includes differentiation within the province. For example, nursing is ‘in-demand’ if the migrant intends to settle in a rural area, outside of the Manitoba Capital region. Some streams require job offers and some are purely human capital based.

Applicants to this PNP must demonstrate a connection to Manitoba through the support of family members or friends, previous education or work experience in the province, or an invitation to apply from the Manitoba PNP as part of a Strategic Recruitment Initiative. In demographic terms, the age factor is particularly interesting. The maximum points are awarded to those of working age between 21 and 45. Those 50 and older receive zero points for the age category. Points may be deducted for applicants judged to be at higher risk of settling elsewhere (for example because of family or previous work/study in another province). The maximum amount of points, 500, can be allocated for ‘Adaptability’. 

The maximum amount of points (500) can be allocated for ‘Adaptability’. Under this factor, all applicants must demonstrate some connection to Manitoba. By prioritising prior relationships and integration within the province, the system is aimed at migrants who are likely to settle in the province. Applicants can receive points for only one type of connection to Manitoba, even if more apply. For example, if an applicant has both a close relative in Manitoba and previous work experience in Manitoba, only one of these categories will count towards their overall point total. However, migrants may receive additional ‘regional immigration’ points for planning to settle in a region of Manitoba outside the city of Winnipeg. 

The Manitoba PNP is seen as particularly successful in building close cooperation with employers, and building on a thorough consultation process to understand local needs. 


The PNPs have had a clear effect of attracting migrants to more peripheral areas, and data suggests that they have influenced a redistribution of migration away from the main cities of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto: in 2017, 34% of economic immigrants settled outside Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, compared to just 10% in 1997. 

Looking specifically at the Manitoba case, in 1996, just 233 people were admitted through the first PNP in Manitoba, increasing to 9,958 by 2016. Over the period 1999-2007 Manitoba attracted 40,000 migrants; it has been estimated that in the absence of the PNP, the number over this period would have been 12,000. In terms of geographic dispersal, the provincial government highlighted that 28,000 nominees settled in at least 130 rural communities, and the program is credited for the growth of cities such as Morden, Neepawa, Steinbach and Winkler. However, if we look at PNPs across Canada, redistribution of migrants to the less central provinces has been more modest. For example, of the nearly 50,000 migrants admitted through PNP pathways in 2017, almost 42,000 were admitted into Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia. 

Compared to federal economic migrants, provincial nominees have substantially higher earnings in the year after arrival. This is likely to be due to the link between PNP migration and employment. Interestingly, a study by Statistics Canada from 2008 also showed that migrants entering more peripheral regions and smaller urban areas were more likely to be economically successful. These immigrants were able to use their credentials more effectively and were able to overcome their lack of linguistic ability more easily. 

The effectiveness of PNPs has been measured by looking both at the ability of provinces to attract migrants, and their abilities to retain them. In terms of retention, an evaluation of PNPs in 2017 found that 83% of PNP migrants admitted to Canada between 2002 and 2014 were still residing in their province or territory of nomination in 2014. However, this varied significantly, and more remote areas had lower retention rates. Prince Edward Island had only 27% retention, with 56.7% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 59% in New Brunswick and 65% for Nova Scotia. Retention in Canada overall was high, with only 4% leaving Canada after receiving permanent residency. Migrants reported that the most significant factor affecting retention in the province of nomination was economic: onward movement was most likely to occur where they considered that better or more job opportunities were available outside of their original province. This points to the importance of linking provincial migration with labour market opportunities. 

Challenges with retention have been especially pronounced in the Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick), prompting the development of targeted measures to attract and retain migrants within the Atlantic Growth Strategy. This Canadian Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program is included as a further case study within the report. 


The PNPs are explicitly oriented to addressing labour needs and stimulating economic development in less central/urban areas of Canada, challenges which are to a significant degree impacted by population decline. As such, they can be understood as in part a response to the types of demographic challenges similar to those faced in Scotland: ageing population, combined with population decline in a number of (especially rural and remote) areas. The points-based systems build in flexibility to accommodate a range of labour market and demographic needs, which can be varied in terms of location (across and within provinces/territories), occupational and skills shortages, and over time. Thus, for example, the points system can be weighted to impose lower conditions for particular occupations in specific rural areas.

In terms of rights of migrants, PNPs are among the most generous programmes in the world, offering permanent residency from the outset, and access to citizenship after three years. There are no restrictions on movement within Canada once the nominee receives permanent residence. 

One of the main challenges, however, has been to attract and retain migrants to remoter areas, and Canadian provinces/territories have sought to address this through selecting nominees based on their likelihood to settle in the area. They have also combined admissions programmes with measures to encourage longer-term integration and settlement, notably in the Atlantic area.

Australian State Specific And Regional Migration (SSRM) Scheme

In common with other OECD countries, Australia faces challenges related to an ageing population, and has adopted a range of measures to increase labour force participation and enhance productivity, as well as using immigration policy as a tool to mitigate shortages. This is reflected in its points-based system, which provides channels for recruiting skilled employees, students, investors and entrepreneurs. Alongside its federal scheme, a major focus has been to counter the perceived over-centralisation of the population (including foreign-born nationals) in major cities. By contrast, many local (and especially non-urban) areas are facing population decline, created by a decline in natural increase which is not being offset by in-migration. As a consequence, much of Australia’s immigration policy has been oriented towards encouraging settlement in remoter parts of Australia, and relieving pressures on urban areas. This goal has guided recent decisions to increase the quota of permanent visas, and expand options for acquiring a regional visa. 

In recognition of regional disparities, the first State Specific and Regional Migration (SSRM) schemes were introduced in 1995. These schemes are designed to promote the spatial redistribution of migrants, in order to meet regional labour shortages. The SSRM fall within Australia’s skilled migration category, which accounted for 68.4% of migrants in 2017-18. Most of the schemes are human capital based, in that they recruit people based on points awarded for various characteristics (skills, qualifications, and so on). However, many of the schemes have increasingly incorporated a specific job offer as one of the criteria, another example of the ‘hybridisation of human capital points-based systems.

How It Works

SSRM visa schemes are generally targeted at applicants who fall just short of the pass threshold of Australia’s wider Points Assessment Scheme. The schemes mainly target ‘skilled’ workers, defined as those in the top four Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) categories: managers, professionals, paraprofessionals, and skilled tradespeople. The SSRM includes the following schemes:

  • The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS), which enables employers in regional and low population growth areas to sponsor skilled employees. It is part of the Employer Sponsored category and accounted for 6,221 migrants in 2017/18. While only open to skilled migrants under 45 years of age, it allows a relaxation of some of the skills and age and language requirements in place for the federal-level scheme and offers applicants lower fees. Sponsored migrants require a job offer from an employer. 
  • State and Territory Nominated Independent (STNI) Scheme, which allows the state or territory to nominate migrants who have narrowly missed the pass threshold for the federal-level General Skilled Migration scheme. Nominees must be skilled migrants, who will support local economic development needs and address local labour shortages. In 2017/18 around 27,400 migrants were recruited under this route. 

In November 2019, a new scheme, the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa [was] introduced to replace the RSMS. This new visa is designed to promote settlement in regions, through making permanent residency contingent on living and working in the relevant region while holding the visa. Holders of the new regional provisional visas will be required to live and work in regional Australia for the duration of their visa, which will have a validity period of up to five years. To be eligible for permanent residence, regional provisional visa holders will need to demonstrate they have lived and worked in regional Australia as holders of a regional provisional visa and had a taxable income at a minimum level for three years.

The SSRM schemes recognise that labour needs in ‘Regional Australia’ are different to those of more metropolitan areas. For example, employers nominating migrants through the new Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional visa will have access to 450 more occupations than the equivalent non-regional visa. Entrants will also have priority processing over non-regional equivalents.

There was also an expansion of the temporary graduate visa, allowing international students to remain for an extra year of post-study work. Graduates become eligible for this extension if they have graduated from a regional campus of a registered higher education/postgraduate university or institution and if they remain in a regional area during their first Temporary Graduate visa. 

All Australian states and territories take part in some of these SSRM schemes, although not all areas are eligible for each type of visa. The original eligibility criteria for the areas which could take part in the SSRM schemes were explicitly demographic: areas with less than 200,000 inhabitants at the 2001 Census or that had a population growth rate less than half that of the national average (1996-2001). This meant that, within most Australian states, SSRM migrants do not have the opportunity to settle in Australia’s largest metropolitan centres. The policy thus aims at the redistribution of migrants to more peripheral states and to more rural and remote areas within popular settlement states. Since 2019, the eligibility for areas that can receive state/regional sponsored visas has been simplified. Now, the definition of Regional Australia includes all of Australia except for selected metropolitan areas: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Prior to the November 2019 changes, most SSRM schemes had built in a residency requirement to stay for a period of two to three years in the state or territory they entered. For example, entrants through the RSMS were granted a five-year entry visa to live and work in Australia, and were required to live in the relevant location for at least two of these five years in order to have their visa reissued (for a further five years). Entrants were required to notify immigration authorities of any change of address, and could have their visa cancelled if they had not made a genuine effort to remain in the nominated position for at least two years. They could be eligible for citizenship after four consecutive years in Australia. 

The new Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (see above), introduced in November 2019, builds in stronger residency and work conditions. It sets a requirement of living and working in the region for five years before earning permanent residency, including having a taxable income at a minimum level for at least three years. The explicit goal of this change is to ‘incentivize migrants to stay in regional areas longer term as they build ties through workforce and community participation’. Entrants will have a pathway to permanent residence, with a new Permanent Residence (Skilled Regional) visa commencing in 2022.

There are benefits to migrants applying through SSRM schemes, including more relaxed admission criteria and faster processing times. Processing through individuals sponsored through the state/territories takes approximately six months, while the federal skilled stream is processed within 12 months. 

One example of a region benefitting from the SSRM is South Australia. Since the decline of South Australia’s manufacturing industries in the 1970s, the state has experienced slower growth, generating outflows of young South Australians. As a consequence, South Australia has a larger proportion of its population aged 65 years and over than other states (in 2001, 14.4% compared to the Australian average of 12.6%).

The South Australian state sought to counteract this trend through the creation of a population policy in 2004, which explicitly aimed at growing the South Australian population through attracting more immigrants. South Australia’s capital, Adelaide, meets the criteria for SSRM visas due to its slower than average population growth. The presence of a smaller capital means that South Australia is one of the few states that allows migrants to settle in a metropolitan place through the SSRM.


State specific and regional migration mechanisms have grown as a proportion of the overall entryways for migrants. In 1997, the number of visas granted via SSRM categories accounted for only 2.3% of the total non-humanitarian intake; by 2017-18, 32.6% of migrants entered through SSRMs. This is in the context of a broadly steady level of non-humanitarian immigration over this period. This suggests that the system is in demand by both migrants and states, and has contributed to the goal of addressing aggregate shortages caused by demographic change. 

To evaluate the spatial redistribution of migrants after the introduction of the SSRM, it is possible to consider the number of new settler arrivals in each region of Australia over time. By separating into four separate regions: New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland (the three top recipients of migrants in 1991-1996) and the rest of Australia, it is evident that since the introduction of the SSRMs, there has been a shift away from New South Wales towards other Australian regions. There has been an increase of migrant arrivals to Queensland and Victoria, as well as a decrease of 5% in New South Wales.

For peripheral regions, the picture is less clear. While over the longer term there seems to be an increase in migrant arrivals, this is very modest: suggesting that SSRM visas must be paired with a clear and explicit commitment to attracting migrants (as can be seen in South Australia’s implementation of a wider ‘population policy’ alongside its embrace of the SSRM mechanisms).

It is difficult to assess the success of the SSRM in retaining migrants. Unlike Canada, the Australian Statistics agency does not publish information on migrant retention. However, available data suggest that while these schemes have led to substantial in-flows of foreign nationals, many regions continue to see high levels of out-migration of both foreign nationals and Australians to other parts of the country. December 2018 population statistics disaggregated urban centres and the ‘rest of’ the state. They showed that outside of Adelaide, in the ‘rest of South Australia’ there were net inflows through overseas migration (960 people) but a loss of 973 people (including native born) through net internal migration. Clearly, concerns about retention motivated the introduction of the new Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa, with its more stringent requirements for living and working in the sponsoring region.

There have been some criticisms of the scheme, revolving around the impact of residential requirements within the SSRM, which is perceived by many as creating a two-class system of migration in which some migrants have freedom of movement while SSRM migrants are regionally restricted. Furthermore, the complexity, multiplicity, and changing nature of SSRM mechanisms can make it more challenging for migrants to navigate the state and regional specific schemes. 


The Australian SSRM mechanisms offer multiple entry mechanisms, designed to address a range of demography-related goals: addressing aggregate shortages, specific occupational shortages, and encouraging migration to regions especially affected by population decline. This latter is achieved by selecting those who have narrowly missed qualifying for the federal-level scheme. Unlike other schemes discussed in this report, the SSRM mechanisms are mainly limited to high skilled migrants. The fact that Australia has managed to attract substantial numbers of high skilled migrants to both federal and SSRM schemes, including to areas outside of the major cities, attests to the appeal of Australia as a country of destination. Scotland may face more significant impediments in attracting high skilled migrants at these levels, especially to remote/rural areas, especially as many of the jobs available in areas facing population decline would not meet these skills criteria.

The SSRM have built in provisions to promote retention, including a residence requirement of 2-3 years, with permanent residency status obtainable after 4 years. These requirements are being made more stringent under the November 2019 regional visas, which require entrants to stay in the sponsoring region for 5 years, including demonstrating 3 years of taxable income. Under the previous schemes, less popular destination areas such as areas of South Australia outside of Adelaide have continued to suffer from net out-flows to other parts of Australia, which have offset positive inflows from overseas. These areas have found they need to introduce a wider set of measures to encourage longer-term settlement of migrants. It will be instructive to monitor whether the new, more rigorous residency and work requirements lead to higher levels of retention in more peripheral regions of Australia.



Back to top