Two organisations representing Scottish businesses have united to call for a “fundamental rethink” of the UK Government’s proposed post-Brexit immigration system to avoid it becoming “unworkable”.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) jointly represent tens of thousands of businesses across the country.
They criticised the changes proposed in the UK Government’s White Paper on immigration and called for a major revamp.
Both organisations want more flexibility in the immigration system so it can respond to the needs of Scottish businesses.
The UK Government paper proposes one system for the whole of the UK which would end freedom of movement, allowing visas for skilled workers sponsored by an employer and meeting a minimum salary – with a recommendation this is set at £30,000.
A 12-month visa “transitional” route would be developed for short-term workers with no skill requirement, restricted to certain countries.
SCC chief executive Liz Cameron and FSB Scotland’s policy chairman Andrew McRae said in a joint statement: “As they stand, the mooted changes will make it hugely difficult for most Scottish firms to access any non-UK talent or labour.
“Further, the demographic implications associated with the UK Government’s blueprint will see comparatively fewer working age people in Scotland, which will put pressure on many local communities and the country’s tax base.
“The Secretary of State for Scotland has promised to listen to Scottish firms about these proposals and develop a future immigration system which addresses the specific economic and demographic needs in Scotland. But tinkering is not the answer when a fundamental rethink is required.
“We need to see a quick change of approach before we’re left with an unworkable system which impairs firms’ growth potential and threatens the Scottish economy.”
The issue was raised at the Scottish Parliament in a statement by External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop.
She told MSPs the UK Government proposals would be “especially damaging to Scotland”.
She said 85% of future workers would “not be eligible” to come to Scotland under the plans, and highlighted that all of Scotland’s projected population growth is due to come from migration for the next 25 years.
“As the disastrous approach of the UK Government unfolds, there is growing support for a new tailor-made solution for Scotland,” she said.
“[The White Paper] envisages a narrow, selective system based on wealth and the ability to pay and focusing on cutting numbers above all else… The UK immigration White Paper is wrong-headed, but it is also wrong-hearted.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said a Migration Advisory Committee report found a separate immigration system for Scotland is “not justified”.
He added: “They’re not the only people to think that, many business organisations think the same.”
The minister said she is not arguing for a “completely separate Scottish immigration system” but one which would allow tailor-made policy decisions for Scotland.