11. Population, Migration, and Asylum
The human rights and fundamental dignity of all people who migrate from one country to another must be fully respected. While asylum and immigration are matters reserved to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Government is determined to play its part to support migrants, asylum-seekers, and displaced people in Scotland with fairness and respect, and to ensure that we can address Scotland’s demographic challenges and opportunities in a sustainable and rights-based way.
A) Population Strategy
In June 2019, a Population Taskforce was formed to create a cross-cutting Ministerial focus on the demographic challenges which Scotland faces. In March 2021, the Scottish Government published A Scotland for the Future: Opportunities and Challenges of Scotland's Changing Population, the first national population strategy. The strategy sets out the cross-cutting demographic challenges that Scotland faces at the national and local level and sets out a new programme of work to address these challenges and harness new opportunities across four broad thematic areas:
- a family-friendly nation – as Scotland’s birth rate is falling, we must ensure Scotland is the best place to raise a family;
- a healthy-living society – as Scotland’s population lives longer, we must ensure that our people are healthy and active;
- an attractive and welcoming country – as freedom of movement ends, Scotland needs to be able to attract people who can make a positive contribution to our economy, communities and public services;
- a more balanced population – with rural communities and those in the west experiencing population decline, while many in the east experience increased population growth, we must ensure our population is more balanced and distributed so all our communities can flourish.
As part of this, the strategy details the Scottish Government’s wider ambition to uphold and promote equality and human rights for all people. In this context, our ambition is to embed a human rights-based approach to welcoming people of all nationalities to Scotland, ensuring sustainable, vibrant and resilient communities now and into the future. By enabling and facilitating people to freely make decisions about where they live and the size of their family, it is our ambition for people in current and future generations to achieve the highest long-term wellbeing, while fully respecting human rights.
B) Support for Displaced Populations, including Ukrainians
The conflict in Ukraine has led millions of people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, and we have taken action to play our full part in welcoming those seeking sanctuary from war. In response, the UK Government announced three visa schemes for Ukrainian nationals to enter the UK: the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Ukrainian Family Scheme and the Ukrainian Extension Scheme. The Scottish Government has pressed the UK Government to follow the EU’s example by waiving all visa requirements for any Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in the UK, as well as mirroring the EU’s temporary protection directive.
In the absence of a visa waiver from the UK, the Scottish and Welsh Governments entered into agreements with the UK Government to act as ‘super sponsors’ as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In so doing, we aimed to facilitate significant numbers of Ukrainian displaced people to come to our respective nations quickly. As of 11 July 2022 a total of 21,256 visas have been issued naming a Scottish sponsor – more than 20% of the UK total, and the highest number per head of population in the UK. Scotland is currently providing sanctuary for over 7,000 people, two-thirds of whom applied under the Scottish super sponsor scheme. This exceeds the 3,000 the Scottish Government committed to welcome when the scheme launched in March. A three-month pause on new visa applications for displaced Ukrainians to come to Scotland came into effect from 9:00 am on 13 July 2022. The pause on new applications will not affect anyone who has already made an application or had their visa granted.
Through our Warm Scots Welcome, we have brought together key partners, such as COSLA, individual local authorities, the Scottish Refugee Council and Police Scotland, to ensure the effective coordination of plans to address the associated practical challenges. This includes working with the UK Government to address safeguarding concerns related to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We have established Welcome Hubs for people arriving at key entry points, to provide single points where multi-agency teams can triage people and provide support including healthcare and translation services, clothes and food, temporary accommodation, and trauma support.
We have also committed £36,000 to support a Ukraine Advice Scotland service, delivered by JustRight Scotland, which will offer free, confidential legal advice to Ukrainians and their family members who are seeking safety in Scotland. We have also provided £1 million funding to help the Scottish Refugee Council upscale their capacity to help those arriving in Scotland from Ukraine.
Separately, the UK Government are currently running two pilots with Talent Beyond Boundaries that seek to support people displaced in migrant camps to come to the UK through skilled migration routes. There are two pilots in the UK, a displaced talent mobility scheme and a route focusing on the skills needs of the NHS. These complementary pathways are an essential component to the international community’s response to the global displacement crisis. The First Minister has committed £83,000 to Talent Beyond Boundaries to support approximately 50 displaced individuals to make their home in Scotland. This pilot increases the availability of safe and legal routes to the UK for people in need of protection and affords refugees the dignity of being able to work to support their families and contribute to their new communities.
C) Seasonal Horticultural Workers
Between March 2020 and February 2021, the Scottish Government part-funded research conducted by Focus on Labour Exploitation and Fife Migrants Forum which sought to understand the risk of human trafficking for forced labour for people coming to Scotland as part of the UK Government’s Seasonal Workers Pilot (“SWP”) in the horticultural sector.
The research report was published in March 2021. The report aims to respond to concerns raised by experts on human trafficking and modern slavery during the development and launch of the SWP, and to develop strategies that can be taken by the UK and Scottish Governments to tackle the risks of human trafficking for forced labour associated with the SWP, to protect current and future workers, and to identify concerns from employers about the scheme.
The report also contributes directly towards two outcomes in the Scottish Government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy: that people at most risk get help to increase their resilience against trafficking, and that victims are aware of support and trust it enough to ask for help. We have therefore established a worker helpline in partnership with the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (“RSABI”) which includes language interpretation services and acts as an interface with partners such as the Modern Slavery Helpline and Police Scotland.
We are currently also exploring solutions such as reviewing the information and guidance that is made available to farms and workers in relation to working conditions and pay, extending local authority inspection and enforcement capabilities, encouraging engagement between trade unions and the sector to agree fair workplace standards and increase migrant worker representation, and aligning with ongoing Scottish Government initiatives to combat destitution amongst people with no recourse to public funds who are facing crisis situations.
We have also committed £41,843 to fund a Worker Support Centre to provide an enhanced package of advice and practical support to seasonal horticultural workers of any nationality. This builds on the existing support for the agricultural sector provided by RSABI but focuses on the particular needs of temporary migrant workers. The centre will be delivered by JustRight Scotland and will serve as a first contact for workers on the scheme, with referral channels for complex cases. It forms part of our response to the Ukraine crisis, in addition to the general Ukraine Advice Scotland service, which is also funded by the Scottish Government.
D) EU, EEA and Swiss Citizens' Rights
The Scottish Government is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of EU citizens living in Scotland. In 2019, we launched Stay in Scotland, a campaign to support EU citizens through the Brexit transition. As well as reconfirming our commitment to EU citizens, the Scottish Government has worked closely with third sector partners to help people apply to the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme. Scottish Ministers have consistently called on the UK Government to improve the Scheme, and in January 2018, we successfully persuaded the UK Government to drop its plans to charge £65 to apply to the Scheme.
The Scottish Government will uphold its obligations under the citizens’ rights parts of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement and also the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement. We make sure that our policies, guidance and legislation fully respect the rights of European Union, the European Economic Area and Swiss citizens. The Scottish Government works closely with the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements.
E) New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy
The Scottish Government is committed to supporting refugees, asylum seekers and Scotland’s communities through the pioneering and collaborative approach of the New Scots: Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 to 2022. The strategy is led in partnership by the Scottish Government, COSLA, and the Scottish Refugee Council. The Scottish Government sees integration as a two-way process that involves positive change in both individuals and host communities, and which leads to cohesive, multi-cultural communities.
The Strategy includes a framework of actions across seven themes of integration:
- needs of asylum seekers;
- employability and welfare rights;
- health and wellbeing;
- communities, culture and social connections.
Delivery of the Strategy is being enhanced through the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund up to December 2022. The project includes a £2.8 million grant fund which is enabling 56 projects to spread documented good practices and to support innovation in Scotland under the objectives of the strategy, including promoting employability, education, health, and social and cultural connections for refugees.
F) Ending Destitution Together Strategy
The Scottish Government and COSLA published the Ending Destitution Together strategy in March 2021. The strategy aims to improve support for people who are at risk of destitution because they are subject to a No Recourse to Public Funds condition. The strategy’s vision is that no one in Scotland is forced into destitution and everyone has their human rights protected, regardless of their immigration status. The principles of prevention, partnership, and personalisation inform the strategy’s approach, and it sets out a range of actions in the areas of essential needs, advice and advocacy, and inclusion.
Asylum and immigration are matters reserved to the UK Parliament, including the operation of the asylum system, accommodation and financial support for people seeking asylum, and application of the No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
The Scottish Government raised significant objections to the UK Government’s New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. Measures set out under the New Plan and the Act will not achieve the outcomes the Home Office has set out, but will increase risks of exploitation and destitution. The UK Government plans will add unnecessary complexity to systems which are already extremely challenging to navigate and will put people in need of protection at risk. They are entirely contrary to principles of integration and support for refugees. Scottish Ministers urged the UK Government to make amendments to the then-Nationality and Borders Bill during its passage, and the Scottish Parliament agreed a general motion withholding consent on two clauses in the then-Bill which triggered the requirement for legislative consent.
The Scottish Government is clear that everyone who is resident in Scotland is entitled to access health care on the same basis. This includes all refugees, people seeking asylum and people whose claim for asylum has been refused. People seeking asylum should be accommodated within our communities with access to the support and essentials they need.
The Scottish Government supports the widening of asylum dispersal in principle, but believes participation by local authorities should be voluntary. The Scottish Government will continue to make the case for an asylum system that reflects and supports our commitment to integration from day one of arrival.
H) Devolution of New Powers on Migration
The Scottish Government’s January 2020 paper Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper outlines our position on the devolution of new powers on migration. The paper summarises the options for a tailored migration policy for Scotland and advances a reasonable, realistic approach with the devolution of some powers within a UK framework and joint working between the two governments on delivery. Tailored, responsive and humane migration policy can help contribute to Scotland achieving the National Outcomes with improved wellbeing and sustainable and inclusive economic growth at the heart of its purpose.
The paper suggests seven principles as tests against which to measure migration policy proposals:
- migration policy should address the needs of all of Scotland, including those areas most at risk of depopulation;
- migration policy should encourage and enable long-term settlement in Scotland, welcoming people with the range of skills we need to work, raise families and make a positive contribution to society;
- Scotland should be able to attract talented and committed people from Europe and across the world to work and study here without excessive barriers, and our migration policy should support mobility, collaboration and innovation;
- migration policy should support fair work, protecting workers’ rights, pay, and access to employment, and preventing exploitation and abuse;
- people who are entitled to live in Scotland – both international migrants and UK citizens – should be able to bring close family with them and migrants should have access to services and support to encourage integration into communities;
- the migration system should be easy to access and understand and focused on what a prospective migrant can contribute, not on their ability to pay – therefore fees and charges should be proportionate;
- migration should be controlled to deter and prevent abuse, fraud and criminal activity, including terrorism, human trafficking and other serious offences.
If agreement was reached with the UK Government on a tailored migration policy for Scotland with new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government would undertake public consultation in designing and developing that policy. Such a consultation would include discussion with communities, migrants, employers, trade unions, public services and wider civic society about the values that would underpin policy.
For example, some of the important values discussed through devolution of social security, such as dignity, fairness, and respect, could also be relevant in the context of immigration policy:
- dignity could mean welcoming people who want to make Scotland their home, people who want to live, work and raise their families here as part of our communities, as well as people who want to study, visit or work in Scotland for a time, valuing and celebrating the contribution they make to society and the economy, and treating them with kindness;
- fairness could mean putting in place clear rules that everyone can understand and follow, making decisions on those rules consistently and transparently, and making sure decisions can be reviewed or appealed – it could also mean preventing and identifying fraud and abuse of the system;
- respect could mean developing and delivering policies which have democratic accountability at their heart, with clear aims developed in conjunction with employers, representative organisations and communities – the Scottish Government would make decisions openly, explain decisions, and be accountable for them in the Scottish Parliament and to the people of Scotland. Under the current system, too many immigration changes are made without adequate opportunity for clear democratic accountability.
There is cross-party consensus in the Scottish Parliament about the benefits that migration has brought to Scotland and wide agreement that Scotland needs the powers to tailor migration policy according to our circumstances. We have worked closely with employers, trade unions, elected representatives and individuals to develop proposals to suit Scotland’s needs, and looked closely at international models to learn about what works in delivering a tailored approach to migration. We are proposing a cohesive, evidence-based approach that meets the needs of all of the country.
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