Skills demand

Baillie hints at Labour support for visa scheme

Jackie Baillie
Jackie Baillie: talks needed (pic: Terry Murden)

The Scottish Government may be given new powers over immigration to help ease skills shortages across the country.

Deputy Scottish Labour leader Dame Jackie Baillie, has hinted at support for a Scottish visa that has been demanded by the SNP and industry specialists.

It comes amid an alarming shortage of workers in areas such as the care sector and investment in renewables projects in the highlands that will create hundreds of jobs.

Sir Keir Starmer, the UK Labour leader, is focused on creating homegrown jobs but has been open to a points-based system to import skills if it helps improve performance in the economy and public services.

Dame Jackie has suggested that such model could allow Scottish immigration policy to deviate from the rest of the UK.

“I know there are skill shortages in different parts of the UK, including in Scotland — for instance in the care sector,” she said. “So how do we make sure to match our immigration system to skills is something that is very firmly on the agenda at a UK level and Scotland would benefit from that.”

Asked if she would consider a Scottish visa, she said: “There would be discussions to have at that time.”

“So there would be dialogue and discussion but we need to recognise that growing home-grown talent is really important.

“At the moment there are no plans for one [a Scottish visa], but I think if you have governments taking common-sense approaches that an incoming Labour government would do, then dialogue will continue.”

Her remarks come 20 years after the last Labour first minister, Jack McConnell, pioneered a slightly divergent immigration policy in Scotland. His Fresh Talent scheme, agreed with Westminster, allowed students who graduated from Scottish universities to secure a work visa.

It ran from 2004 to 2008 and was eventually killed off by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster.

Kate Forbes, the Scottish Economy Secretary, last year called for a rural workers’ visa and told the CBI Scotland lunch earlier this month that it would help ease a problem over filling new renewables jobs. A rural visa scheme was proposed by the Scottish government in 2022.

Salmon Scotland, the trade body for the industry, said salmon farmers want to see a more enlightened approach to the movement of labour into the UK.

It says this includes a change to key worker definitions and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people coming here to work.

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