The Scottish Government’s migration minister has warned that stricter visa rules following Brexit could have a “devastating” impact on attempts to grow Moray’s economy.
The region has one of the lowest average earnings in Scotland with wages more than 20% behind those in Aberdeen.
Ben Macpherson visited the area yesterday to hold talks with employers including Johnstons of Elgin, Specsavers, Robertson and Springfield Properties to learn about the effect a proposed £25,600 threshold for people moving to the country could have.
The Scottish Government has proposed special visas north of the border to take account of regional issues – a suggestion already rejected by the UK Government.
However, Springfield’s managing director Dave Main believed the approach would help minimise potential problems in the construction industry.
He said: “There are various barriers that, from my perspective, are going to be put in place in terms of how can we ensure employment for certain areas of the industry.
“It’s not so much a problem for our direct employees because most of them have already got settled status.
“But the wider construction industry and our supply chain has a significant amount of jobs that could be affected by the £25,600 threshold. The majority of the jobs that would be available like labourers or forklift drivers would be below that.”
Mr Macpherson also toured the Aberlour factory of Walkers Shortbread, which employs about 500 EU nationals.
The biscuit company has consistently warned about the effect stricter visa rules could have on its workforce.
Mr Macpherson said: “Of course, this will affect all parts of the country but in Moray the demographics are even more acute because it has high employment rates and competition for labour is so high.
“Any reduction in migration therefore will have devastating effects on the short-term in terms of the success of institutions in Moray that are doing so well and in the medium-term of realising growth potential.
“How are we going to be able to do that if we can’t bring in the people that we need?”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said: “We’re lucky in Moray to be home to thousands of people who have chosen to move here from other parts of the world and many of those wouldn’t have been allowed into the country under these new rules.
“The arbitrary figure which has been plucked out of the air by the UK Government is £25,600. For Moray, that threshold is disastrous given that 60% of workers earn less.”