The Scottish Parliament has backed calls for the UK Government to not charge EU citizens a fee to secure their settled status after Brexit.
In March, the UK Government has announced it will introduce a settlement scheme where EU citizens and their family members will be required to apply to secure their rights through an online system, with fees of £65 for people aged 16 or over and £32.50 for people aged under 16.
On Wednesday, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a motion calling on the UK Government to drop the proposed fees as it introduces a post-Brexit immigration system.
A fee will apply not just to adults but to children and young people – potentially affecting 223,000 people in Scotland.
The fee to apply will be £65 for people aged 16 or over and £32.50 for people aged under 16.
The Scottish Government has committed to paying the fee for EU citizens working in devolved public services, however the UK Government will not allow third party payments meaning the eligible EU citizens wanting to get settled status will have to pay up-front.
The policy has been criticised by organisations across Scotland, including by CBI Scotland, the Federation of Small Business Scotland, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and Universities Scotland.
Speaking following the debate, which focused on the welcome and positive contribution EU citizens make in Scotland, Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said: “The turbulence and uncertainty of recent days and weeks – in fact, of the past two and a half years – has caused real anxiety for EU citizens in Scotland.
“Scotland faces challenges through long-term demographic trends – in particular, an ageing population, with not enough working age people coming through to replace those leaving the labour market.
“European migration has been good for Scots, and for Scotland. It has helped sustain the working age population, and has boosted our economic growth. EU citizens should not be charged a fee to retain rights to which they are already entitled.
“I have raised this issue with the UK Government, most recently with the UK Immigration Minister. I will continue to argue that there should be no fee.
“It is not just the Scottish Government calling for the fee to be scrapped. The overwhelming message from those I have spoken to, whether that’s businesses, third sector organisations or EU citizens themselves, is that it is unfair that people are having to pay and to apply simply to keep their existing rights to live, work and study in Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservatives were the only party to vote against the motion at Holyrood.
Speaking during the debate Adam Tomkins MSP accused the Government of “empty virtue signalling” over fees.
He said: “EU nationals with indefinite leave to remain will not have to pay a fee and those who do pay will pay £65 if they are over 16 and £32.40 if they are under 16 which is significantly less than a British citizen would pay for a passport.”
Labour’s Claire Baker said it is “unjustifiable” to make EU nationals pay extra to retain their rights.
After the publication of the Government’s white paper on immigration, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “The Immigration White Paper provides a strong foundation for delivering what businesses and individuals in Scotland want – a UK-wide immigration system with the flexibility to meet the needs of all sectors of the economy in all parts of the country.
“Our 12-month engagement with business will allow us to develop a future immigration system which addresses the specific economic and demographic needs in Scotland.
“At the same time, the Scottish Government must do more to shoulder their share of the responsibility for making Scotland an attractive place for people to live, work and put down roots.”