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13/07/19 00:01

Building a fairer immigration system

Tailored approach needed for Scotland.

Migration Minister Ben Macpherson has urged the Home Office to work with the Scottish Government and stakeholders on an immigration policy that addresses the particular problems experienced by remote communities – and proposed that Scotland pilot a different approach.

In a letter to the Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes ahead of the next four-nations meeting on migration issues, Mr Macpherson has proposed working with the UK Government to take forward recommendations made in the Migration Advisory Committee’s recent report on skills shortages.

The text of the letter is below:

I am writing to advise you of matters I plan to raise in discussion at the next Ministerial round table on immigration, scheduled for 23 July in London. It is a positive step to have established this group as an ongoing forum for engagement on immigration issues, and I hope this letter helps frame a useful discussion. I am mindful that this is a period of some uncertainty at Westminster but, in the spirit of good intergovernmental relations, hope that we can retain this continued engagement at Ministerial level. I know our offices are also discussing the potential for a bilateral meeting that day, which would be very helpful.

Future Borders and Immigration System

I note that the Home Secretary has given a further commission to the Migration Advisory Committee on salary thresholds in the skilled worker route, including regional salary levels, and it would be helpful to understand the UK Government’s thinking in asking the MAC to look again at this question. As you know, the proposed threshold of £30,000 would have a catastrophic effect on Scotland’s economy so it is welcome this review has been commissioned.

Given the significance of the matter to Scotland, I would also like to discuss how we can work together to deliver the regional immigration pilot projects the MAC recommended in their most recent report, which was a welcome acknowledgement of the need for tailored migration policy for different parts of the country. The Immigration White Paper proposed a review of the role of the MAC, which the Home Secretary touched on in his letter to the Chair, and I would appreciate an update on that strand of work, including terms of reference and timescales.

I would like to discuss timescales for implementation of the new immigration system. This would include an update on progress of the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, how much of the new system you expect to deliver for 1 January 2021, how much you believe can be phased in over a period of time and when that might begin.  

I would also like to address ‘no deal’ preparations, including any update you can offer on the European temporary leave to remain visa proposal and its impact on Scottish universities, which Richard Lochhead and I raised with you in our letter of 1 February. I know we discussed this last time we met and there was an acknowledgement of the need to address this issue but it is not clear that there has been any progress towards a resolution. I’m aware the Home Secretary has written to Dr Tim Bradshaw of the Russell Group on the matter, but the continuing lack of clarity is unacceptable and we hope for progress before this meeting. This is clearly an issue of considerable concern and it is important that Scottish universities know for sure that this will be addressed and resolved quickly.

I would appreciate an update from you on the implications of the Home Secretary’s recent comments on international students and post-study work, supporting Jo Johnson MP’s amendment. It would be good to understand when and how the Home Secretary’s personal support will be reflected in government policy, and if it will be extended to include all international students rather than just EU, EEA and Swiss as the Johnson amendment proposes. I would also like to hear from you what engagement you and your officials have had with groups representing students who have been unfairly disadvantaged by flawed English language testing and what steps the Home Office is taking to resolve this issue.

There are two immigration issues affecting offshore industries in Scotland that I hope to raise with you. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, wrote to you on 25 July 2018 about the use of transit visas to employ non-EU nationals in the fisheries sector. This practice can, indirectly, contribute to cases of exploitatation where non‑EU crew members are unable to come onshore and are required to remain at sea for extended periods without the protection of UK employment rights and suitable living and working conditions. Although such exploitation is not widespread, it does take place, and creating a more appropriate route for these essential workers to gain immigration status allowing them to live and work in the UK, including territorial waters, is a necessary first step to tackling the problem.

EU Settlement Scheme

Another offshore issue arises in the context of the EU settlement scheme. As I set out in my letter of 17 April there continues to be little detail about the process through which frontier workers will be able to apply for a document certifying their rights. My immediate concerns are around arrangements for Scottish Government staff working on fisheries compliance and research vessels, and the crews of two Northern Isles freight ships providing vital lifeline services for the island communities that they serve. In both instances EU citizens are undertaking these critical roles in remote locations and urgently need clarity on their position. A discussion on progress would be welcome.

More broadly, I would welcome a discussion on amending the current EU Settlement Scheme from a constitutive to a declarative system. The Scottish Government believes that EU citizens should not need to apply to maintain the rights they already have. A declaratory system, avoiding the need to make an application and removing the threat of refusal except in the most extreme circumstances, would best protect the rights of EU citizens living here.

This includes the right to remain in the UK, and to retain the associated rights to which they are entitled. A declarative system must be underpinned by primary legislation. The legislation should clearly set out the rights of EU nationals who are resident in the UK at the point of leaving the EU. This would provide greater certainty for EU citizens and would ensure that any changes proposed by a future government would be subject to increased scrutiny by the UK Parliament.

The need for this certainty is now urgent and well overdue, and I fully support the aims of the Costa Amendment as a means to bring to an end the years of insecurity and anxiety. I was pleased to see that Stephen Barclay has recently written to Michel Barnier setting out the UK Government’s support for the positions of the 3Million and the British in Europe and seeking agreement for further joint work to secure citizens’ rights.

I strongly urge the UK Government to commit every effort to resolving this issue as quickly as possible. However, it remains open to the UK Government to guarantee the rights conferred on EU citizens in the UK by the Withdrawal Agreement unilaterally and I seek your assurance that the UK Government is committed to this course of action should the joint work to secure citizens’ rights fail.

It would also be helpful to discuss various issues regarding the operation of the EU Settlement SchemeFor example, it would be helpful to know whether the Home Office is developing plans to provide physical proof of pre-settled and settled status and to discuss what is being done to ensure the transfer from pre-settled to settled status is as smooth as possible. Publication of accurate and timely data by the Home Office will be key in ensuring our efforts to support EU citizens in Scotland are reaching those who need it and I would like to understand what the data will include and how often it will be published.

Future Meetings

Finally, in relation to these meetings, I would welcome a brief discussion on how best we and our respective officials work together to develop the agenda for future roundtables, and how actions are recorded and monitored.

I hope you will have the opportunity soon to visit Scotland again to meet with a broader range of stakeholders in connection with the EU settlement scheme and the future immigration system. I would be very pleased to facilitate this for you, as I suggested in my letter of 4 June, and to join those discussions to hear concerns and think together about solutions. I would also highlight Fiona Hyslop’s letter of 29 May to the Home Secretary, proposing a Ministerial discussion on the specific visa issues facing attendees of our world famous Edinburgh festivals and other important conferences and events across Scotland and the UK.

I have copied this letter to Jeremy Miles AM, Counsel General and Brexit Minister for the Welsh Government; and to David Sterling, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

BEN MACPHERSON