Brexit: The UK’s new immigration rules are bad news for Scotland

, by Reanna Smith

Brexit: The UK's new immigration rules are bad news for Scotland

The past six months have been a turbulent time all over the world, but with one of the highest death tolls in Europe and the end of the Brexit transition period swiftly approaching, the UK has found itself in a difficult position. On January 1st 2021, the UK’s new immigration rules will come into force. But as the country enters its biggest ever economic recession, concerns are growing about the impact this will have. 

Immigration was consistently one of the top issues of concern for the UK public in the lead up to the EU referendum in 2016, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it dropped off the top 10 altogether. Now though, a rapidly increasing number of asylum seekers  crossing the English Channel has meant that the media and politicians have turned their attention to immigration once again. The UK Home Office has made it evident that they will do all that they can to limit the number of immigrants entering the UK. 

But it seems that the whole of the UK doesn’t share this anti-immigration attitude. The Scottish Government has recently released a report slamming the UK government for an immigration system that could see its social care sector crippled. 

According to the report that was published last month, an estimated 26,000 workers in the Scottish health and care sector come from overseas, with 16,000 coming from European countries and a further 10,000 workers coming from countries outside of Europe. It’s clear then that this sector relies on this significant number of workers. 

How could the new immigration rules impact this?

Under the new rules, the UK will operate a points-based immigration system. This means that to work in the UK, most foreign nationals will need to earn at least £25,600 a year to meet the salary requirements for a Tier 2 Work Visa. But many roles in the care sector don’t come with wages that meet that salary. Data from the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) suggests that less than 10% of those working in caring and personal service occupations in Scotland earn £25,000. 

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, the government released a list of “key worker” roles. These were the jobs that kept the UK running during these unprecedented times and ranged from supermarket workers to life-saving NHS staff. However, it was quickly pointed out that many of the roles that came under the key worker didn’t have salaries high enough to be classed as a “skilled worker” under the newly proposed immigration rules. After being criticised for excluding the workers that had sacrificed so much to save lives in the UK during this time, the government announced a new Health and Care Visa. The aim of this was to recognise these workers and make it easier for them to continue to work in the UK under the new rules. However, social care roles aren’t included under the new Health and Care Visa.

Workers in the Scottish care sector support over 200,000 people across the country, and with 45% of COVID-19 deaths in Scotland happening in care homes, the contribution of their work during this time is no less than any other type of healthcare worker. 

This is what Ben Macpherson, Scottish Minister for Public Finance and Migration believes. He is now campaigning for care roles to be included on the Shortage Occupation List, to prevent serious understaffing issues in the care sector. He said: “Care professionals from all over the world have played a vital role in caring for our communities during the COVID-19 crisis. It is mind-boggling that the UK Government has introduced a ‘Health and Care visa’, intended to show the UK’s gratitude to frontline workers in these sectors, but that this initiative bizarrely continues to exclude and disregard the huge contribution of social care workers.”

Adding social care roles to the SOL would allow employers to recruit international workers at a lower salary threshold of £20,480 instead, a necessary move to secure the sustainability of the country’s care sector, which is ais already at risk. A Scottish Care employer survey from 2018 showed that Scotland is already experiencing staffing issues in care roles, with 77% of care homes were having recruitment difficulties. The Coronavirus pandemic has only increased this risk, putting more pressure on health and care services.

But its impact on the care sector isn’t the only reason why the new rules don’t work for Scotland. The country also has demographic issues unique to the rest of the UK. Scotland has a rapidly aging population, and the new immigration rules could heighten this issue by resulting in a further decline of the working-age population. A report from February last year, looking at the impact of the UK government’s Immigration White Paper proposals in Scotland, estimated that migration to Scotland over the next two decades could fall by as much as 50%, causing the working-age population to decline by up to 5%. 

These new immigration rules not only threaten social care in Scotland but also the country’s relationship with England. With a majority vote of 62% to remain in the EU, the rift between Scotland and England has only increased since the Brexit referendum, and these rules will widen the countries’ conflicting interests. Whilst Scotland might be part of the UK, it’s interests when it comes to immigration differ greatly to England’s. If the UK government refuses to acknowledge this, then they risk dividing the UK and pushing Scotland closer to independence. 

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