Immigration into Scotland could be halved by the proposed salary threshold and risks staff shortages in areas such as the care sector, a study has found.
Home Office plans post-Brexit would require migrant workers to earn at least £25,600 a year to be able to work in the UK.
Currently, skilled workers from outside the European Union need to have a job offer with a minimum salary of £30,000 to be eligible for employment, but after Brexit the £25,600 threshold will apply to those both inside and outside the EU.
Self-employed people would not be eligible to migrate to the UK to work under the UK Government’s plans.
Analysis by the Scottish Government’s independent expert advisory group on migration and population (EAG) estimates a reduction of net migration to Scotland of between 30% and 50%, based on forecasts of both EU and non-EU migrant labour.
The group, chaired by Professor Christina Boswell of the University of Edinburgh, concludes “very few jobs in agriculture, caring, office and customer-related occupations would be eligible”.
As part of their analysis into the impact of the immigration policy, the EAG found 52.5% of roles in Scotland pay less than £25,600, including up to 90% of jobs in the care sector.
Scotland’s gender pay gap also means that 63.3% of jobs currently employing females would not be available to migrants.
Prof Boswell said there may be a “moderate expansion of immigration” from outside the EU due to the reduced salary threshold but remote and rural areas of Scotland “will still be more adversely affected after Brexit, because of the lower number of jobs available meeting the threshold”.
She added: “This risks exacerbating problems of population decline in remote and rural areas of Scotland, which are the areas most in need of in-migration.
“The proposals slightly narrow the gender gap we had noted in our 2019 report, but they still suggest that female migrants would only be able to access around 37% of available jobs as opposed to 59% for men.”
The Scottish Government’s migration minister Ben Macpherson said the immigration policy is “failing to address Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs”.
He said: “Sectors with key workers who we have all relied upon to support us through the pandemic will be hit particularly hard by the UK Government’s policies, including social care and food production.
“With just over six months until freedom of movement with the EU ends, and as we face the biggest economic crisis in decades, we urge the UK Government to pause and reconsider their plans.
“Ploughing on regardless would be deeply irresponsible and costly. It is time the UK Government fully consulted with the devolved administrations and industry bodies, and tailored their approach to develop a system which recognises and meets the distinct needs of all four nations.”
Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, argued “a significant number” of care workers who have been on the coronavirus frontline are from the European Economic Area and earn less than the salary threshold.
He said: “This independent report shows that the proposed UK immigration policy risks shutting the door on the ability of social care providers to recruit talented, skilled and dedicated workers from Europe and elsewhere.
“The proposed lower salary threshold of £25,600 simply fails to recognise that the vast majority of those working in social care in Scotland earn less than this figure.
“I urge the UK Government to give serious consideration to the reform of their proposals, to appreciate the distinctive needs of Scottish social care providers and to prevent the damaging consequences which will inevitably ensue were this policy to be implemented.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are ending free movement and delivering a new points-based system that is firmer, fairer and will benefit the whole of the United Kingdom.
“It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy.”