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Ending freedom of movement for EU citizens during pandemic has created 'unnecessary uncertainty', Gail Ross is told

By Alan Hendry

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Jenny Gilruth, Scotland's minister for Europe and international development.
Jenny Gilruth, Scotland's minister for Europe and international development.

North MSP Gail Ross has been told that ending freedom of movement for European Union citizens in the midst of a pandemic has created "unnecessary uncertainty".

She was taking part in a virtual parliamentary portfolio question session in which Scotland's minister for Europe and international development, Jenny Gilruth, said that gaining further powers over the immigration system would allow the Scottish Government to "further mitigate these issues".

During the question, Mrs Ross – the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross – asked about the impact of Brexit on workers coming to Scotland from EU countries.

Ms Gilruth replied: “Given the extraordinary circumstances of the global pandemic, the full impact of Brexit on Scotland’s workforce is currently unclear. Ultimately, however, fewer EU workers will damage public services, labour markets and communities.

“The Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population estimates a net migration reduction of between 30 and 50 per cent by 2040 which would mean up to a five per cent decline of our working age population. Overall we estimate immigration changes could result in a GDP [gross domestic product] reduction of around £5 billion.”

Mrs Ross then pointed out: “I’m getting reports locally of falling numbers of people working in hotels and other tourism businesses. If we are going to ask people to holiday in Scotland again this summer, what can be done to ensure our tourism sector has enough staff to cope, given that a high percentage of them came from continental Europe?”

Ms Gilruth responded: “I don’t want to prejudge where we will be come this summer, but I know where we were last year and many of us chose to holiday at home in Scotland.

“That will only be possible with a sustainable tourism industry, so we will work hard to support communities like Caithness, Sutherland and Ross to ensure that infrastructure is there for visitors when the sector is deemed safe to reopen.

“The Scottish Government has provided unprecedented support to businesses throughout the pandemic but the end of freedom of movement in the middle of a global pandemic has created unnecessary uncertainty which would have been avoided.

“Gaining further powers over our immigration system would give the Scottish Government the ability to further mitigate these issues in the interest of the people of Scotland.”

The Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population is an independent body established to provide expert analysis and advice to Scottish ministers on migration and population.

A July 2020 report noted that UK government policy would disproportionately prevent EEA citizens migrating to the UK to work in the tourism sector, as salary requirements would not be met.

In a 2017 report recognising the contributions of EEA citizens to the Scottish economy, the Scottish Government reported: “The tourism sector is heavily and increasingly dependent on workers from other EU countries. In 2016, according to the Annual Population Survey, there were approximately 17,000 EU citizens working in tourism in Scotland – representing 9.4 per cent of all those working in the sector overall, with this share rising to 15.3 per cent for the accommodation sector specifically."

Prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector represented 13 per cent of total employment in the Highlands, with only Argyll and Bute having a higher percentage (15 per cent). A further Scottish Government report noted: “While the sector represents an important part of the economies of Scotland’s cities, it also forms a critical part of the economies of more rural areas like the Highlands and Argyll and Bute.”

All EU citizens and their family members who entered the UK on or before December 31, 2020, and wish to continue to live, work or study in the UK need to apply for an immigration status to remain legally resident.

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