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Immigration, independence and differences with neighbours…

13 Sep 2013

Significant questions remain unanswered about how Scottish immigration policy will work after the independence referendum – irrespective of the outcome of the vote, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

In a new commentary, Bordering on Confusion, the Migration Observatory, provides detailed analysis of the differences between the migration profiles of Scotland and the rest of the UK, showing that England in particular has a much faster growing population with a considerably larger proportion of migrants than Scotland, and also that Scotland’s population may not grow without immigration – unlike the rest of the UK.

But while these differences have led to calls for a Scotland-specific immigration policy, to use high-skilled migration to help encourage population growth, this could bring challenging trade-offs.

In particular, if immigration policies that are very different to those in the rest of the UK are introduced in Scotland – such as joining the EU’s Schengen free travel area or introducing policies to encourage greater non-EU immigration – there may be calls from the rest of the UK for Anglo-Scottish passport controls.

The commentary precedes the official launch of the Migration Observatory’s Scotland project on Wednesday (Sept 18th), part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Future of the UK and Scotland activities to inform the referendum debate.

It also considers regionally specific migration policies in other countries, such as Canada – at present the only concession to Scotland’s differing immigration situation is a Scotland specific ‘shortage occupation list’.

Canada’s policy provides evidence that it is possible to introduce visa requirements that specify that a migrant can only work in a particular area, for some years after their arrival. This sort of policy is not dependent on a “no” vote for independence, as it might apply to an independent Scotland within a common travel area with the UK and Ireland. However, it raises implementation and enforcement challenges and is dependent on coordination with neighbouring countries.

Dr Scott Blinder, acting director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “Scotland and the rest of the UK share a border, so any policies that are introduced by an independent Scotland have the potential to affect other parts of the UK, which may have ramifications for Scotland.

“There are ways to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ immigration policy, and Canada provides one example of that, but these policies bring their own challenges with implementation and enforcement. Whether this sort of approach would be feasible in the UK, or palatable to governments on either side of the border is, as yet, impossible to say.”

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