Scotland’s brain drain can be curtailed with high-achieving refugees


May 25, 2022

Syrian refugee families arrive at their new homes on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, Dec. 4, 2015. (Getty Images)

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Scotland has long been a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution, and it remains the most open part of the UK after Brexit. It has a proud tradition of granting asylum to those fleeing persecution and it is currently the most welcoming part of the country for Syrian refugees, for example.

And Scotland has always been a richer place for it — more cosmopolitan, more connected, more innovative. Unlike other parts of the UK, we have never been in doubt about the value that new people bring to our communities, which is why we have actively sought to attract talent, both before and since Brexit.

However, Scotland is now suffering a net brain drain, as London’s immigration policies are having a chilling effect on the ability of willing Europeans to remain here. We do not currently have the ability to change our immigration policy specifically to fit Scotland’s needs, but there are things we can do within the constraints imposed by UK-wide immigration rules.

Following China’s introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, the British government opened up a channel for almost 3 million Hong Kongers to relocate to the UK with a path for citizenship. At the time, it was expected that only about 10 percent of those eligible would take up the offer, but that number may go up over time. About half of the current population of the island, remember, were born and grew up in a British jurisdiction and were used to having the rights and protections we have here in the UK.

For their part, the UK government has done the right thing in extending the immigration offer to people who, until 1997, were British subjects and many of whom still have British Overseas Passports. But the government has done little to proactively attract emigres from Hong Kong. The good news is that this represents a huge opportunity for Scotland to instead attract some of the most talented and capable Hong Kongers, who otherwise might have chosen to relocate to London or elsewhere in the south of England.

Hong Kongers, it should be remembered, are some of the most educated and entrepreneurial people in the world, they already speak English and they share a political and cultural outlook very similar to our own. In other words, the costs of their integration into our communities would be minimal, while they also have more to offer to the communities they may choose to settle in than maybe any other group currently looking for a new home.

Edinburgh should not waste any more time and should pounce on this opportunity while it is still available.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

And this policy can be extended to other refugee populations once an effective model is established. Syrians, for example, are well known throughout the Middle East to be among the best educated and most entrepreneurial of people. In fact, the almost 1 million Syrian refugees given asylum under Angela Merkel in Germany in 2015-16 have integrated swiftly and are said to be thriving and making a positive contribution to their host nation. There is no reason to restrict the policy to one people or region.
Scotland should not waste any more time and should pounce on this opportunity while it is still available. A large enough infusion of talent and energy into our still very progressive society has the potential to rekindle Scotland’s spark as an innovation and cultural powerhouse and ignite a second Scottish Enlightenment. And Hong Kongers can lead the way.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, DC. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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