Scotland’s population is ageing and net migration, which has been the main driver of population increases in recent years, is forecast to ease in the coming years.
A number of sectors are already facing recruitment challenges. Over the summer, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), revealed that 72% of businesses are struggling to fill vacancies.
Tommy Sheppard, who shadows Mr Jack in the Commons, criticised the Tory minister’s unwillingness to contemplate any devolution of immigration.
He said: “Let’s be clear here, we are talking about the administration of work permits for people from overseas who wish to work in Scotland on a temporary basis.
“Just about everyone thinks that would be better administered in Scotland, while the Secretary of State insists it should be centralised by his government in Westminster.
“His argument would be plausible if the UK could demonstrate that it is doing well with managing the migration service. But given the catastrophe that is the UK immigration system, when is he going to wake up and realize this would be better done in Scotland by the people who live there?”
Mr Jack pointed to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which grants temporary visas to 45,000 people across the UK. He said it had proved to be a “huge success.”
Mr Sheppard said the minister was “standing against everyone here, against experts, against academics, against representatives of industry, and even against the people of Scotland themselves, 28% of whom only think immigration is too high and more than six out of 10 think it would benefit the country.”
“So when is he going to stop being the Secretary of State against Scotland and be the Secretary of State for Scotland?,” the SNP MP asked.
Mr Jack dismissed the line as “an old one” but “not a very good one.”
He added: “The reality is Scotland is the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, that is not attractive for people to work there. We have the highest ever net migration. If the Scottish Government focus more on good public services, on good infrastructure and lower taxation, hopefully we’ll… see more people settle in Scotland.”
Changes announced in last week’s Autumn Statement, now mean that Scottish taxpayers with income over £27,850 pay more income tax and National Insurance combined compared to the rest of the UK.
The SNP’s Diedre Brock also raised immigration. She said: “The UK Government said that post-Brexit domestic employment would fill labour gaps, but the executive director of UK Hospitality Scotland has said that the gaps left by excluding EU workers have not been filled.
“With huge numbers of specialist vacancies left such as chefs and managers, when will this government accept reality and stop destroying Scotland’s economy in the name of a purist Brexit ideology?”
“Well, I think I think the honourable lady lives in a parallel universe,” Mr Jack replied. “We have the highest net migration to the UK since records began, far higher than when we were in the EU. As I say, if you want to attract people to Scotland stop making it the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.”
During the session, Labour’s Ian Murray raised the fate of Grangemouth.
He told the Commons: “The announcement to close the refinery at Grangemouth is a hammer blow. Too many communities are still living with the devastation from being left behind after coal mine closures in the 1980s. This must not be allowed to happen again.
“Grangemouth’s owner is buying football clubs and investing in plants elsewhere while the workers here lose out, and the Prime Minister has decided a culture war on the environment trumps getting the UK into the global green energy race by backing Labour’s green energy superpower plans.”
He asked: “Can the Secretary of State say what discussions he is having with the Scottish Government to protect jobs at Grangemouth and what impact this will have on the Acorn carbon capture and storage project?”
Mr Jack said: “It is a very worrying time for those whose jobs are at risk at the Grangemouth refinery. This morning, my fellow minister met with Neil Gray from the Scottish Government … a Department of Energy minister was present.”
On the future of the Acorn project, he added: “I have spoken to the chief executive of Storegga, who are basically pulling the project together. He tells me that the refinery closing actually has very little impact on their project.”