Moves to halt Scotland's population decline by attracting migrants with work permits are close to being finalised, it has emerged.
Mr McConnell says skilled migrants should be welcomed
First Minister Jack McConnell has warned that, without action, Scotland's working-age population could fall below three million within a generation.
The Scottish Executive is working with Westminster to boost the number of migrants settling in Scotland.
An executive spokeswoman said an announcement on the plans was imminent.
Mr McConnell told BBC TV's The Daily Politics programme that Scotland's population has been in steady decline for several years, although the decline had slowed since devolution in 1999.
"We still have demographic changes which are going to lead to further
decreases in population over the next 23 years, which will lead to the working
age population in Scotland going below three million by 2027," said Mr
He said his first responsibility as first minister was to nurture and retain
Scotland's home-grown talent.
"But we also have a real opportunity, I think, in attracting skilled migrants
from elsewhere in the world, more people on work permits," he said.
"We believe that if we had our UK share of population in relation to work
permits, then we would be able to stem that demographic change and that
population decline in Scotland."
People with skills
Mr McConnell and Home Secretary David Blunkett have been in close contact over
the first minister's goal of encouraging more people to settle in Scotland.
Work permits are thought to be a favoured method of achieving this, and
officials based in Sheffield who are responsible for work permits are
said to be examining how best to do this.
An executive spokeswoman said an announcement on Mr McConnell's plans was
Mr McConnell told the TV programme that after problems three years ago, there
was now a greater integration of immigrant families in Glasgow and other areas,
to the benefit of local schools and other aspects of life which gained from
hard-working families coming to Scotland.
He said: "It's precisely those kinds of families - entrepreneurs, people with skills
and in some cases people with money - able to come to this country and make a
contribution to our economy.
"That's what businesses in Scotland are crying out for and that's why we are
responding and putting together details to the Home Office that will make this
work in practice."