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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 11:31 GMT
McConnell: 'Come to Scotland'
First Minister Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell wants young people to move to Scotland
The next stage of the scheme to attract young people to work in Scotland has been set out by the first minister.

Jack McConnell launched the Relocation Advisory Service in Glasgow, which offers support and advice.

It is part of the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent plan to help reverse the population decline.

The service has already taken 1,000 calls from people overseas, most of which were about visas, work permits, housing and other relating information.

Six staff are employed by the service, including two secondees from the Home Office and the Immigration Advisory Service UK.

Most of the queries came from the US, India, Poland and Nigeria.

Mr McConnell also announced that the two-year visas being offered to overseas students will apply to diploma students as well as graduates.

The demographic problem in Scotland is very, very serious
Professor Robert Wright

There will be a new government fund to help universities and colleges mentor overseas students and encourage them to settle in Scotland.

This will be open to all Scottish higher and further education institutions. The first awards will be made in time for the start of the new academic year in 2005.

Mr McConnell said: "Tackling our declining population is a priority for the Scottish government which is why I want Scotland to be the most welcoming country in the world."

'Net importer'

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill's Glasgow Kelvin constituency is home to more universities and colleges than anywhere else in Scotland.

She said: "It's only part of the policy in trying to prevent the decline in Scotland's population. It can only have a limited effect.

"We need to look at other policies, such as how we increase the birth rate and perhaps reduce the death rate. This is only part and parcel of an overall policy.

"There's no other European country attempting to do this.

"The overall question is the attractiveness of staying in a country. That's why the broader policies of the executive have to be successful in making Scotland a place where people want to live and work."

The MSP said: "Scotland is a net importer of students. We have a higher proportion of overseas students who apply to Scotland, so we have a good base to start from."

Dying population

But the initiative has been criticised by economist Professor Robert Wright, of Stirling University.

"It's generally just tinkering around the edges. Even the most optimistic projections of the success of this programme just don't generate enough people," he said.

"The demographic problem in Scotland is very, very serious. The government is very nšive to believe this problem can be solved by trying to retain a small number of foreign students."

He warned: "The demographic situation now is putting a restraint on growth. The real constraint will come over the next decade when the potential labour force starts to decline quite rapidly.

"Then we are going to see some of these aspects really bite and this could generate even lower rates of economic growth. It's almost like a spiral.

"Some of the aspects of immigration policy have to be devolved and aspects of the Devolution Agreement have to be re-negotiated to allow Scotland to have more ability to attract and retain the type of people it needs for its economy to be successful."

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