Public Attitudes to Migration
474. Public attitudes in Britain have changed over the last few years. Immigration as a matter of public concern has fallen and we are seeing increasingly positive public views towards migration. The COVID-19 pandemic has further led to the recognition of the valuable contribution of migrants - including those who hitherto would not have been recognised as skilled workers - and that they would support an immigration system which reflects this, and enables people to come to the UK to work in these roles. It has also served to highlight the public's compassion and sense of fairness towards migrants already in the UK.
475. The UK Government should take this opportunity to address the criticisms of its approach and ensure that the new system enables its wider economic strategy and ambition, and meets the needs of the whole of the UK. This also presents the opportunity to revoke the hostile environment and make a fairer, more humane, system that supports migration; and one that more closely reflects the views of the public.
Evidence of changes in attitudes to migration
476. Significant shifts in attitudes in the UK have been taking place over the long term with a noticeable re-set of trends in the past 4 or so years. Interestingly, the trend in the UK to more positive attitudes to immigration is not true across Europe - the UK has diverged here in increasingly recognising the value of immigration since 2014. Data show considerable decrease in concern about immigration, with an increase in recognition of the benefits of it: there has been a reappraisal of the impacts of migration to consider the positive.
477. A recent GB-wide ICM poll (commissioned by British Future) in May 2020 confirms this evidence that across the public, opinion has particularly begun to recognise the essential contribution of migrant workers in the UK.
478. 70% of people say COVID-19 has shown how important a contribution immigration makes in the NHS, and 64% say the crisis has made them value the role of "low-skilled" workers.
479. This evidence represents a significant increase between January and May in the proportion of people who argue that those coming to the UK to work as teachers, care workers, agricultural workers, buildings and in the hospitality and financial sectors - our key workers, and notably, all sectors employing high proportions of EU nationals - should receive high points in the future system. A high proportion of these currently would not be eligible for entry to the UK in the current proposals for the future system. Even at the beginning of May, over half (54%) of respondents to the ICM poll would argue for the loosening of immigrant restrictions for migrants now recognised as being essential workers.
480. Support was also high for NHS workers, and for those coming to work in those sectors with high levels of vacancies.
481. Indeed over three quarters of respondents to a Focaldata online poll carried out at the beginning of April believe that all EU nationals working in the health system should be offered automatic British citizenship.
482. These results clearly show that the British public, as well as the Scottish Government, want a fair immigration system that allows migrants to come to the UK to perform essential roles. They also offer support to the Scottish Government's repeated urge to the Home Office to grant all key workers indefinite leave to remain (ILR), as well as lifting the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) restrictions.
483. Thus the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the existing trends towards more positive views of immigration. We would advise the UK Government to build on this and focus on this increase in the public's compassion and sense of fairness to build a positive immigration system within the UK.
484. A recent poll showed, in support of the Scottish Government's suggestions for a Scottish visa, 59% of people agreed that it would be better if Scotland ran its own asylum and immigration system.
485. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already widespread criticism of the proposed new points-based system. Employers, businesses and membership and advocacy organisations argued the underlying approach to attract 'the brightest and the best' is outdated, and fails to reflect the realities of the UK labour market. A review by the House of Commons of responses to the proposals for the new system revealed particular concerns around the acute labour shortages that would arise.
486. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the pitfalls and failings of the new system - and particularly the risks posed by a lack of channel for so-called
487. This call for evidence itself is taking place in the midst of the crisis, where businesses will be wholly focused on responding and adapting in order to survive. We urge the MAC to allow businesses longer to respond to this commission.
488. The UK and Scotland are facing the double effect of leaving the EU, potentially without a trade deal, and slow recovery from the current COVID-19 crisis.
489. The COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate rural and regional inequalities, and most particularly damage services and tourism economies - of which Scotland relies upon.
490. There be a significant impact on the labour market with reduced staff available and willing to enter the UK to live and work.
491. The UK Government's proposed future immigration system, with the ending of freedom of movement and no general route for lower-skilled migrants - or temporary migration - will serve to confound the damage to the economy caused by COVID-19 and of leaving the single market. The UK Government have also confirmed they will not consider regional variation of salary thresholds, which will disproportionately affect Scotland.
492. The Scottish Government has always disagreed with the UK Government's label of so-called "low-skilled" migrants, arguing that an immigration system should not signify skill-level by salary levels alone, and that these individuals form an essential part of our economy and society. The Scottish Government also strongly believe that freedom of movement should continue. Without freedom of movement, the future system should be as close to replicating as possible.
493. Yet the valuable role such migrants play in our society has been highlighted by the current COVID-19 crisis. The UK Government announced their list of 'key workers' - those whose jobs considered vital to keep the country and economy afloat - and who are celebrated in media and other channels. This includes food processors and supermarket workers; delivery drivers; nurses and care workers. Migrant workers are over-represented in many of these sectors and occupations.
494. With the exception of NHS and higher-skilled health workers, none of these roles would be eligible for a visa from 1 January 2021. By their own admission the UK Government has no plans to revise or change their plans, despite the reliance on these individuals as highlighted by the current situation.
495. While this commission by the MAC covers the SOL and not the rest of the Immigration System we consider it important to raise our concerns and our consistent call for the UK Government to reconsider their plans for a future immigration system, with an overall objective that is not just to reduce overall migration but considers the value migrants play not just to the economy but to society, particularly in the light of the current crisis.
496. The current COVID-19 crisis has not only served to highlight the fundamental flaws in the proposed UK immigration system; a lack of a pathway for "low-skilled" workers, who have been redefined in recent weeks as 'key workers', and for whom demand for labour will continue, but the importance of resilient and robust communities.
497. We therefore welcome this commission which considers roles at the medium skills level (RQF 3-5) for inclusion in the SOL. However, this does not go far enough: roles considered "lower-skilled" or which do not require academic qualifications must also be considered within the future system. As the table in Annex A shows, there are many key roles within our economy that fall out with this scope. Furthermore, a high percentage of the roles filled by 'key workers' are designated 'lower-skilled' and hence without a replacement route for freedom of movement, will not be able to be recruit from outwith the UK, and hence likely to face significant shortages a result.