2.1 Policy context
The Scottish Government is clear that inward migration enriches our society for the better, and migrants make a net contribution to our economy, our public services and our public finances. Scotland’s demography - our ageing population, and depopulation of some remote and rural areas - means that inward migration is crucial to Scotland’s future prosperity. Over the past decade, an estimated 45% of migrants to Scotland from overseas have come from EU countries, however analysis has shown that we can expect a reduction of around 30-50% in net overseas migration into Scotland as a result of the ending of free movement. This is particularly significant in the context of the latest National Records of Scotland projections published in January 2022 which show that in-migration is the only factor maintaining Scotland’s current population growth, and that after 2028 Scotland’s overall population will begin to decline.
The Scottish Government has outlined the evidence demonstrating the impact of the ending of free movement on all communities in Scotland, including those in remote and rural areas. A tailored approach to immigration is evidently needed; one which addresses Scotland’s distinct social, demographic and economic needs, and specific geographic challenges. The commitment to develop a rural visa pilot proposal was enshrined in the Scottish Government’s 2021 Programme for Government following the Expert Advisory Group’s evidence to the MAC and their subsequent options paper. The commitment as included in the Programme was to “develop a Rural Visa Pilot proposal, to support people to move to and work in our rural communities, submitting a proposal to the UK Government in 2022.”
Scottish Ministers therefore invite the UK Government, alongside the MAC, to explore and implement practical solutions which can help to meet these needs. This document should be seen through that lens, as a practically-focused, operationally workable and proportionate proposal designed to target the needs of specific pilot communities as part of a wider conversation about ensuring the needs of communities are met.
2.2 UK Government position
The Migration Advisory Committee published a recommendation in 2019 acknowledging the distinct challenges facing remote and very rural communities and recommended the development of a pilot to facilitate migration to these areas, stating that:
“The current migration system is not very effective in dealing with the particular problems remote communities experience. If these problems are to be addressed something more bespoke for these areas is needed. The international evidence suggests that such regional schemes can struggle to retain migrants in the areas they were recruited in once they have the freedom to move, so the key question is whether migrants into these remote areas settle there permanently or leave for other parts of the UK. The only way to address this question in the UK context would be to pilot a scheme that facilitated migration to these areas, then monitor what happens over several years and evaluate the outcomes.”
This recommendation was accepted by the then-Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, in a written statement to Parliament in July 2019. Following this recommendation, the EAG published a policy options paper for a rural visa pilot, exploring different models which a pilot scheme could be designed around and which has informed the basis of this proposal development.
The Scottish Government recognises the current position of the UK Government is not in favour of tailored place-based migration solutions, as indicated in correspondence between Kevin Foster, UK Government Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, and Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, in early 2022. In April 2022, Kevin Foster agreed to consider the proposal, during a meeting with Neil Gray, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development.
In July 2018, the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee published Immigration and Scotland. This paper set out clearly the demographic challenges facing Scotland, and the need for a tailored approach to migration policy. In May 2022, the Secretary of State for Scotland responded to the Immigration and Scotland ‘ensure we engage effectively in Scotland at both ministerial and official levels’report, outlining the wish to . The response did not address specifically the challenge that the Committee made in regard to migration policy for rural areas, but did acknowledge the impact of UK Government policies on the Scottish Government’s devolved responsibilities and interests. As part of this, Scottish Ministers welcome Alister Jack’s commitment for the UK Government to engage effectively with Scottish Ministers and officials in areas where reserved policy impacts upon devolved interests, and we view this proposal as an example of the required engagement with the aim of benefitting Scotland’s communities.
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