External Affairs Secretary says migration is essential for a vibrant economy.
Attracting overseas students, and the £441m they contribute to the Scottish economy, could be threatened as a consequence of Westminster actions on immigration External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said today.
Speaking following a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) in Downing Street, Ms Hyslop said she had raised concerns around the intention of the UK Government to introduce measures to charge overseas students and visitors an extra levy for services.
Ms Hyslop said:
“Today I made it clear to the UK Government that Scotland does not share their ill-advised views on immigration and the damaging consequences it will have on attracting foreign students and the significant benefits they bring to our economy.
“International students in Scotland currently contribute around £441m a year to the Scottish economy. I share the serious concerns of the British Medical Association over the UK Government’s proposals to restrict access to NHS healthcare. This thoughtless attempt to control immigration by imposing a charge for public services could deter overseas students from living and working in Scotland, prevent Scottish businesses recruiting skilled workers and send an unwelcoming message which could damage Scotland’s valuable tourism industry.
“It is clear that this UK policy has not been thought through and is not evidence based - we don’t know how the allocation of funds raised by the healthcare levy will be distributed and it is likely to put Scotland at an international competitive disadvantage and further damage our ability to attract students to Scotland. This proposal impinges on Scotland’s devolved health service and must therefore be subject to a vote in the Scottish Parliament.
“We have already seen this week that Westminster is at odds over UK visa policy. Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May said relaxing visa arrangements for Chinese visitors would threaten national security. This week, George Osborne told students at Peking University that there would be no limit to the number of Chinese students who can study in Britain and no limit to the number of Chinese tourists who can visit.
“This picture of uncertainty that UK Ministers are painting is in stark contrast to the positive welcome Scotland extends to students and migrant workers who want to live, work or study in Scotland. We know last year that Home Office Minister Damian Green had to launch a ‘charm offensive’ to try and undo some of the damage their immigration policy had caused and more recently we’ve seen the Prime Minister trying to clarify his government’s position to foreign students – mixed messages that are damaging and discouraging.
“I reject the UK Government’s negative rhetoric about migrants. Scotland has a large, established migrant community and we welcome the contribution new Scots are making to our economy and society, bringing skilled workers to our industries and bright minds to our educational institutions.
“Ours is a vibrant and diverse nation which has benefited from being open and welcoming. The UK Government must not be allowed to slam the door, and risk Scotland’s economic prospects in the process.”
Commenting on the UK Government’s proposed introduction of healthcare charges for foreign students, NUS Scotland President Gordon Maloney said:
“This gives a message that international students are not welcome in the UK and will mean more students will choose to study elsewhere.”
A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said:
“The introduction of an immigration health charge will be damaging to Scotland’s international offer and will make the UK less attractive to international students.”
The annual plenary session of the Joint Ministerial Committee was attended by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. The plenary meeting was also attended by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs and by Angela Constance, Minister for Youth Employment.