EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland’s devolved government will cover the cost of immigration status fees for European Union citizens working in the Scottish public sector after Brexit, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday.
The British government, trying to defuse business fears of a shortage of workers after Brexit, has said EU citizens will be able to apply for settled status in the UK for a 65-pound ($83)fee.
Sturgeon wants to attract European nationals to shore up Scotland’s ageing population but their status is in doubt after Britain leaves the European Union and freedom of movement of EU citizens ends.
“It is simply wrong that people already making a contribution to our country should have to pay to retain rights they currently have to live and work here,” Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament.
“However, if the UK government persists, I can confirm that the Scottish government will meet the settled-status fees for EU citizens who work in our devolved public services,” she said.
Although Britain as a whole opted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, Scotland voted to stay, and the independence-minded Sturgeon says Scotland’s best future is to stay in the EU as a country in its own right.
Scots voted to stay in the UK in a 2014 referendum but a recent poll showed support for the idea was now rising.
Sturgeon has been keen to underline Scotland’s different policy approach to the rest of the UK.
Announcing her programme for government for 2018/19, she reiterated that she will make a decision on whether to call for a new independence vote once it is clearer what Brexit entails.
Limiting the number of foreigners who enter Britain was a major reason behind support for Brexit, and immigration is one of the biggest political issues of Brexit talks.
Residency, not citizenship, will also be the basis of the right to vote in Scottish parliament and local elections, Sturgeon announced.
“We highly value the contribution of EU citizens who have chosen to make Scotland their home and we want them to stay,” she said.
Scotland’s parliament sets a portion of its own tax rates and decides its own policies in areas including health, education and transport.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Stephen Addison