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Migration: policy context

The Scottish Government's economic strategy acknowledges the 'demographic challenge' of an ageing population and the need to attract more people of working age to Scotland. The government has a population growth target 'to match average European ( EU-15) population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017'.  The population of Scotland has increased each year since 2001 and is now at its highest ever level. Since 2007, the average annual population growth rates for Scotland and the EU15 countries have been 0.49 and 0.38 per cent, respectively.  

The accession of the A8 countries - Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia - to the EU in 2004 has resulted in an increase in migration to Scotland, with particularly large in-migration from Poland. In January 2007 Bulgaria and Romania became the latest members of the EU with their nationals having restricted access to the UK labour market, for the time-being. The UK and Scottish Government’s commitments to receiving refugees from the war in Syria means it is likely that at least 2,000 refugees will be resettled in Scotland in the next 5 years. 

Immigration has been the major driver in the growth of Scotland’s population over the last 15 years, with net migration exceeding 10,000 people, annually, since 2004. The latest 2014-based population projections for Scotland produced by the National Records of Scotland forecast Scotland’s population rising from 5.31 million in 2012 to 5.70 million in 2039. These projections are subject to a large degree of uncertainty, given they are based on past trends and assumptions about future patterns in fertility, mortality and migration.  Nevertheless what is unequivocal is that migration trends will be a key factor in future population trends in Scotland.

It is worth noting that following devolution, Section 5 of the 1998 Scotland Act reserved 11 key policy areas to Westminster, among them immigration, employment and social security, while devolving most services to the Scottish Parliament. As a result of this division, decisions about levels of migration and access to benefits are made by the UK government, while key services affected by migration, including health care, education, housing, children's services and policing are the responsibility of the devolved government.

The Fresh Talent Initiative, launched in 2003, was set up to encourage inward migration by attracting skilled people to live and work in Scotland. The Fresh talent: Working in Scotland Scheme, which was established to encourage overseas students to stay in Scotland after graduation, has been found to be successful and has been extended to the rest of the UK. 

The Talent Scotland website aims to encourage non UK residents to consider work and study opportunities in Scotland and offers advice to employers on how to attract and employ non UK workers.

As migration has played a larger part in Scotland’s demographic change in recent years, it has become increasingly important to have better intelligence on migration for policy development and for planning and providing public services. National Records of Scotland (NRS) is part of an inter-departmental effort, led by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), to improve the estimates of migration and migrant populations in the United Kingdom, both nationally and at a local level. The ONS website has more information on this programme, including its final report: Migration Statistics Improvement Programme

Page last updated: 22 December 2016

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014