UK Government plans to end freedom of movement and introduce a new points-based immigration system will be “devastating” for Scotland, the country’s First Minister has warned.
Nicolta Sturgeon criticised the proposals, which have also been condemned by Scotland’s care and tourism sectors.
Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, claimed UK ministers were “in cloud cuckoo land” while the Scottish Tourism Alliance branded the plans “the biggest threat to Scotland’s tourism industry”.
They made the comments after the UK Government announced it will stop providing visas to low-skilled migrant workers, instead outlining plans for a new points-based system.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “It is impossible to overstate how devastating this UK gov policy will be for Scotland’s economy. Our demographics mean we need to keep attracting people here – this makes it so much harder. Getting power over migration in @ScotParl is now a necessity for our future prosperity.”
Ben Macpherson, the Scottish Government’s migration minister, accused the Conservative government of “engaging in dog-whistle politics”.
The proposals, which will bring about the end of freedom of movement for people, are “incredibly worrying and concerning”, he said.
Mr Macpherson, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, said: “These proposals from the UK Government are nonsensical and will be incredibly damaging in the short term, and really make it challenging for us to deal with our demographic challenges in the medium and longer term.
“The UK Government is really engaging in dog-whistle politics here by painting immigration as a negative concept when we have all been enriched, financially and culturally, by inward migration and it is incredibly important for our future.”
To address the demographic challenges Scotland faces with its ageing population, Ms Sturgeon last month put forward plans for a distinctive “Scottish visa”.
But this was rejected by the Government, whose new immigration policy statement argues the UK economy needs to move away from a reliance on “cheap labour from Europe”.
The changes outlined are designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year, but aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get UK visas.
Announcing the policy during a visit to Imperial College in west London, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the PA news agency: “It is right that people should speak English before they come to our country, that they should have a sponsored route, whether it’s through employment or a sponsored route through an academic institution.”
Mr Macaskilll criticised the “short-sighted, non-inclusive immigration policy” being put forward by ministers.
The care-sector chief told BBC Radio Scotland: “They talk about the low-skilled economy. What is low-skilled about a worker being with somebody at the end of their life, or somebody giving comfort with an individual with dementia?
“This immigration proposal far from enhancing the economic wellbeing of our country will put a lot of the care sector, a lot of hospitality and other sectors in Scotland at considerable risk.”
He continued: “This is about valuing paper qualifications over people skills, it will bring untold damage to the care sector.
“I do hope the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, when this policy results in that reality, will go to families and say it is because of a short-sighted, non-inclusive immigration policy that you family member is stuck in hospital.
“There is no point in them turning around and saying this is an opportunity for business to improve the terms and conditions and to get the eight million uneconomically contributing people in the country working, they are absolutely in cloud cuckoo land.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The announcement of the UK Government’s plans for a new points-based immigration system appears now be the biggest threat to Scotland’s tourism industry.
“We have very fragile areas in our economy and it is more important than ever that we’re able to attract and retain people, particularly in the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas.
“We need a differentiated system that is responsive to the specific needs of our tourism industry, our demography and our wider economy and sectors.”