The hospitality sector in Scotland has been named as one of those most under threat by any changes to immigration policy post-Brexit, according to a leading trade body.

The Scottish Council for Development & Industry is calling for “urgent clarity” and “certainty” on freedom of movement for EU nationals – to protect Scotland’s economy from potential damage to the labour market.

If the UK fails to provide a permanent policy framework for EU nationals working in Scotland – guaranteeing their future – there is a danger that many will leave, as recent figures appear to show.

The SCDI has urged the UK Government to provide reassurance that Scotland’s large European workforce (one in 20 are EU nationals) are protected from any ‘cliff edge’ caused as a result of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal.

In its response to the Scottish Parliament Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee Immigration inquiry, SCDI has called for immediate reassurances to be provided to Scottish businesses on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and for a framework to be implemented which mitigates against a potential vacuum of labour exiting the UK.

Mark Bevan, SCDI Chief Executive, said: “Scotland is heavily reliant upon a workforce that originates from other EU countries. Many sectors, from banking and finance, to hospitality and manufacturing, are supported by this labour supply. These workers all play a significant role in shaping and supporting Scotland’s economy and it is vital that is protected in any Brexit deal agreed.

“With one in 20 workers in Scotland born in other EU countries, employers urgently need certainty and clarity. Certainty that their current, and future, labour supply is protected. Clarity that the UK Government will be proposing a post-Brexit immigration policy that will continue to support sustainable economic growth in Scotland.

“Recent figures have revealed that the EU referendum outcome could be directly encouraging EU citizens to migrate out of the UK. Whilst the Home Secretary has tried to assure us that there will not be a ‘cliff edge’ for employers or EU nationals in the UK, we are certainly at a crossroads. The UK Government must provide enough information to ensure we can continue to deliver ongoing economic prosperity.”

A new survey by financial services giant KPMG has revealed that up to a million EU nationals are considering leaving the UK; the survey of 2,000 EU citizens found that 45 per cent plan to stay in the UK after Brexit, with 35 per cent are considering leaving and eight per cent having made up their minds to go. Half of those surveyed said they felt less welcomed and valued in the UK since the vote on June 23rd last year.

Scottish Parliament research shows that the hospitality industry – including hotels and restaurants – are well represented when it comes to EU workers. There are an estimated 181,000 EU nationals in Scotland; the majority (119,000 or 66%) are from EU accession nations. Of those, 20,000 work in accommodation and food services, and account for more than one in ten of all those working in this sub-sector.

The SCDI also highlighted particular concerns emanating from Scotland’s rural communities, particularly in the Highlands & Islands where the low rate of unemployment is such that any drop off among EU workers would lead to a shortfall in the workforce.

Fraser Grieve, SCDI Highlands & Islands Director, added: “The single pan-UK approach to immigration cannot continue post Brexit if we are to safeguard the economic vitality of Scotland. Areas such as the Highlands and Islands have a very low level of unemployment as things stand and many sectors from food and drink to tourism and hospitality rely heavily on a migrant workforce with an insufficient local population to plug any gap that may be left as a result of tighter immigration.

“Scotland’s rural economy is an area SCDI will be looking at in detail and we hope our governments will recognise the differing challenges and opportunities different parts of the country face and take steps to ensure that businesses have access to the workforce they need.”