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Research and Policy Update

First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who participated in the Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2020. Motivating people to take time out of their busy days to fill in questionnaires can be a real struggle but this time it has been a breeze. We’ve had a record number of responses, more than 250! I am now working with our graphic designer on the survey report, which will be released in April. It will be sent directly to all respondents and through our bulletin once it’s ready.

In terms of policy news, I’ve attended a couple of event on proposals for a new immigration system from UK and Scottish Governments. At the end of January, the First Minister presented options for migration rules specifically designed to address the problem of Scotland’s shrinking population but still embedded within the UK immigration system. The key proposals include a Scottish visa with less strict criteria than those for current UK visa and the option for Scottish Government to assess and administer the visa processes. Holyrood is also proposing a special approach for Scotland’s rural areas as these are in particular need of additional residents and workers. The UK Government is considering a migration pilot programme for rural areas and the Scottish Government is pushing for Scotland’s rural areas to be included in this. 

The First Minister also proposed differentiation to the UK system with more generous family migration rules, lower charges for employers and employees and longer leave to remain for EU citizens arriving in Scotland after the end of the transition period. Scottish Government argues that all of these proposals could be implemented within a UK immigration system, following the example of Canada, Australia and other countries that allow for regional differentiation within a national immigration system.

None of these proposals were reflected in the UK Government’s migration plans released mid-February. The suggested points-based system is supposed to apply from 1st of January 2021 and will apply to EU and non-EU nationals looking to come to the UK to work. The key characteristics include:

  • The minimum salary threshold will be lowered from the initially suggested £30,000/annum to £25,600, with lower thresholds for entry-level positions. Even for jobs above entry-level the annual salary can be as low as £20,480 if the job is in a shortage occupation or if the candidate holds a PhD relevant to the position (bonus points if it’s a STEM PhD). 
  • Apart from meeting these salary thresholds, workers will need to have a job offer from an employer with a sponsor licence, meet minimum requirements for English language skills and have a Higher/A-level qualification or Higher. This minimum qualification level is new and was reduced from degree level.
  • Employers won’t have to conduct Resident Labour Market tests (checking if a current UK resident could fill the role) anymore which should speed up visa application processes.

The lower salary thresholds will be welcome news to Scotland’s digital technologies employers. Salaries in our sector are generally at a high level but there were concerns particularly smaller businesses, including start-ups, and those outwith the Central Belt about the proposed £30,000 threshold. Also the reduced minimum qualification level will help to recruit non-UK workers outwith the key target group of university graduates which becomes increasingly important for employers looking to widen their talent pool. The decisions to abolish the Residence Labour Market test is also welcome. 

However, the costs and effort required by employers to obtain visas for new staff is likely to become a key issue. The vast majority of SMEs in Scotland’s digital technologies sector won’t have any experience of the visa system yet, as they’ve been only recruiting UK and EU nationals. These companies will have to invest time and money to understand the new system and become a sponsoring employer. No details of the exact fees and charges under the new system have been revealed yet but they are expected to be similar to the current costs which start at about £5,700 for sponsoring one employee for five years and can be significantly higher if they bring family. A good overview of the costs are available here.

The Home Office is planning engagement with businesses and other stakeholders on their plans. I will participate in this engagement phase to make sure that the interests of ScotlandIS members and the wider sector are represented. Please get in touch with me at with your thoughts, positive and negative, on the proposals. 

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