MORE than a year has passed since the UK voted to leave the EU but, despite this, the future position of EU nationals in Scotland remains uncertain. In recent weeks, we have heard the UK Government’s proposals for EU nationals already living in the UK, but these did not offer long-term security to recent arrivals and gave no indication of how future migration from the EU might be managed.

When I speak with businesses one of the most common questions is “Will we be able to hire EU workers after Brexit?” and the longer this question goes unanswered the greater the cause for concern from sectors such as digital technology, retail and hospitality where, in recent times, a high number of EU nationals have been hired to fill skill shortages.

The “politically viable” suggestions of experts at the University of Edinburgh (“Revealed: The plan to keep EU workers in Scotland”, The Herald, June 20) offer a sensible starting point for the future of EU migration but rely heavily on the existing Tier 2 sponsor licence system, which presents difficulties for many small businesses. Given that 99 per cent of Scottish businesses are small or medium-sized enterprises the limitations of the Tier 2 system are thrown into particular focus north of the Border.

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The Tier 2 system requires businesses to register with the Home Office in order to support visa applications, and, whilst the process of registering is presented as straightforward, there are many technical requirements that can lead to refusals. Once a licence is granted, the business is subject to regularly-changing legal requirements in the knowledge that a relatively small breach can lead to the loss of key staff . For many small businesses, this requires new systems to be put in place, and the application process can be a problem for start-ups.

The Tier 2 system is also restricted to jobs considered by the Home Office to be skilled to degree level, and many of the roles filled by EU nationals would fall below this threshold. The University of Edinburgh proposals would see some of these positions designated as shortage occupations so that they can be filled with Tier 2 workers. However, this could cause issues when short term skill shortages arise as amending the list would require legislation and this would take time – potentially making it unsuitable for seasonal work.

A final drawback to an expanded Tier 2 visa system is the financial cost, which has greatly increased in recent years, with further increases to fees already being discussed. At present, a small company applying for a sponsor licence will pay a fee of £536 and will then be required to make further payments for each worker they sponsor. The recently introduced Immigration Skills Charge is an additional cost which must be paid each time a business recruits from outside the EU, and if this were to be applied to EU nationals it would represent a significant barrier to recruitment. The Skills Charge for a small company is £364 per year for each sponsored worker, and there are proposals to double this figure in the future.

In my experience, the Tier 2 system deters many businesses from filling skill shortages from abroad, and bringing EU nationals within the existing system would not be welcomed by existing sponsors. The University of Edinburgh proposals represent a positive starting point,but these should not be adopted without a much wider review of the existing framework.