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UK immigration system is “not meeting Scotland’s needs” says minister

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has proposed a new visa to address the country’s depopulation and skills gaps, following the release of a policy paper calling for an overhaul of British visa law. However, the UK government has indicated having a separate visa for Scotland would not be a viable option.

The first minister of Scotland has called for visa reform, as the current system is "not working for Scotland". Photo: Flickr/ Giuseppe Milo

The current immigration system is "not meeting Scotland’s needs", according to the paper

The Scottish visa would give the country a “tailored approach” to migration by permitting Scotland to have its own powers over immigration policy after the UK leaves the European Union on January 31.

“[It would] attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish”

The current immigration system is “not meeting Scotland’s needs”, according to the paper.

More trust should be placed in colleges and universities to recruit international students on the basis of academic ability, the document read, following “unnecessary administrative burdens” introduced as part of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ measures.

Those measures include “excessive compliance bureaucracy” introduced when the UK government stated that 100,000 students had overstayed their visas when it was fewer than 5,000.

The bureaucracy for institutions, introduced as a response to perceived systematic abuse, should also be rolled back, the document detailed.

“Excessive” application fees and the £300 immigration health surcharge for students should also be scrapped, due to the fact that it “makes Scotland a less attractive destination” for international students.

“Migration to Scotland supports economic growth and the delivery of public services and helps to address the serious issue of long term demographic change – as well as enhancing and sustaining our communities,” said Sturgeon.

“Yet the latest proposals from the UK government to control immigration and end freedom of movement would be disastrous for our economy and society and would risk acute labour shortages.

“Migration is an issue which is crucial for our future, but the Scottish government doesn’t currently have the powers needed to deliver tailored immigration policies for Scotland,” she added.

A Scottish visa would allow Scotland to “attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish”, Sturgeon noted.

The paper criticises the UK government for its reaction to the 2014 investigation into TOEIC exam fraud.

The “overreaction” to the TOEIC investigation resulted in 35,870 visas being revoked.

Although around 3,700 people accused of cheating have won appeals, an estimated 11,400 people caught up in the scandal have subsequently left the UK, the paper noted.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts highlighted the design of the Tier 4 visa system left it open to large-scale abuse, according to the policy paper.

“The UK government rushed to penalise students without establishing whether it had reliable evidence of cheating and that it has not acted to put right these wrongs,” it stated.

While welcoming the UK’s new post-study work visa, the policy paper suggests that the UK government brings forward the “long overdue” step so that students in the UK due to graduate next summer can also benefit.

The paper also raised concerns around e-gates for short-term students.

Although the “positive step” of permitting visitors from certain countries to use e-gates, the change has “created a potential issue for students coming for short-term courses of study being issued with the wrong visa if they do not speak to a Border Force officer on arrival”.

The paper states that the UK government should consider removing short-term visas and permit study on short courses under standard visitor rules.

Director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, noted that the attraction of talent to Scotland was “central to our nation’s success, and the success of our universities”.

“Our universities have always been international and open to talent of all backgrounds”

“We welcome this thoughtful contribution from the Scottish government on how migration can and does contribute to Scotland’s success,” he added.

“We are pleased to see mention of the unnecessary administrative burdens currently placed on our members as well as what could be achieved with the reintroduction of the post-study work visa.

“Our universities have always been international and open to talent of all backgrounds. We hope the UK Government will give this paper serious consideration and reflect on what actions it can take in its immigration policy to allow Scotland’s universities to draw international talent to our nation,” Sim concluded.

On January 27, the UK government announced a Global Talent visa, as it gears up to introduce an Australian-style points-based system at a later date.

However, immigration will remain “a reserved matter”, a Home Office spokesperson said.

“The UK government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK, including Scotland.”

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