Lower wages and remoteness put foreign workers off Scotland
September 10 2008
Better pay elsewhere in the UK was highlighted as one of the problems Scottish employers had in keeping foreign workers in jobs north of the border, the report by the Home Office's Migration Advisory Committee found.
Employees from outwith the EU also had problems settling their families in Scotland's more rural and remote areas, it noted.
Because of the difficulties Scotland has faced in attracting and then retaining foreign skilled workers, the MAC published a Scottish section in its report.
Its members held meetings in Scotland and talked to a range of Scottish employers, coming to the conclusion that, in general, the skills shortages suffered by employers north of the border mirrored those in England.
The MAC, looking at 12 different indicators, recommended a shortage list containing such diverse professions as rail engineers, geologists, consultant anaesthetists, vets, operating theatre nurses, ballet dancers, chefs and sheep shearers but suggested those not needed included GPs, midwives, social workers, construction workers and architects.
It also identified three areas where Scotland had a specific skilled shortage – fish filleters, nurses in elderly care units and speech and language therapists.
The report pointed out how, in the north of Scotland, some employers reported problems with recruitment and retention because the North Sea oil and gas industry was able to entice workers away with offers of higher wages.
It said that some stakeholders “felt that pay differentials between Scotland and the rest of the UK were not accounted for in the new points-based system for immigration, which made recruiting and retaining immigrants more difficult”.
Even when they could be recruited, immigrant workers often went south
It went on: “Even when they could be recruited, immigrant workers often headed south or joined the offshore oil and gas industry quite soon thereafter.
“A number of stakeholders reported they could not offer higher wages without passing on these increased costs to their customers, resulting in a loss of business.”
The report added: “We were told of particular problems in recruiting staff for employers located in rural and remote areas across all sectors and occupations. There were also problems in settling the families of staff in these locations.”
Official figures suggest that just 4% of all immigrants to the UK choose to work and live in Scotland, well below the 10% who should be the nation's proportionate share.
The Fresh Talent initiative was introduced by the previous Scottish Executive in 2005 to try to reverse the problem and tackle Scotland's general decline in population. However, the scheme, which was aimed at attracting 8000 young people a year, has had around 7500 participants since its inception.
Fresh Talent will be subsumed into the UK Government's new points-based system (PBS), which becomes operational in November.
It was suggested some time ago that, because of Scotland's specific needs, migrant workers might get extra points for choosing to work north of the border but this will now not be the case.
However, hopefully, the new PBS will make it much harder for a migrant worker, who has chosen to work for a Scottish employer, to decide after a few weeks to leave and try to find work in England.
A Home Office spokesman explained that under the new system a foreign employee will have to work specifically under the terms of his work permit and be sponsored by his employer. If the worker decided to move, he would have to find a new sponsor. Were the foreign employee to flout the rules, then he would be sent home. Moreover, if an employer were also knowingly to take on a worker in breach of his visa, then the company would face a hefty fine.
Last night, while opposition politicians sought to pick holes in the UK Government's immigration policy with the Conservatives calling for a ceiling on the annual intake of migrant workers and the Liberal Democrats demanding exit checks on those leaving the country, there was a more positive welcome from CBI Scotland.
Iain Ferguson, its policy executive, said the MAC's Scottish-specific list “ought to help and is welcome recognition that Scotland has some very specific labour market requirements”. He stressed it was crucial the new arrangements were sufficiently flexible to respond to the changing needs of Scots businesses.
However, while Mr Ferguson made clear the economy benefited from being open to the skills that migrant workers brought, he warned: “We must not fall into the trap of thinking that immigration is the sole solution to the skills problems this country faces.
“It cannot be an alternative to up-skilling our homegrown workforce or to labour market policies that help those on incapacity or unemployment benefits back to work.