Why it’s time to end the ban on letting asylum seekers work

Many think the UK takes in a lot of people seeking refugee status. But the figures show a different story.

There were 26,350 applications for UK asylum made in 2017. Over the same time-frame, there were 198,255 applications made in Germany, 126,550 in Italy and 91,070 in France.

You might think that given the UK is a rich country, it is liberal and open – and according to a new study is one of the least racist nations across Europe – that to settle here would be good for asylum seekers.

But some of the punitive rules mean that is simply not the case. Take work, for example. Arguably one of the most important things for a human is to go out and earn a day’s pay. It builds self-respect and dignity and helps you to foster friendships and relationships. It can help integrate you within the community and helps fund hobbies and interests that make life more enjoyable.

Yet those who come and make an application for asylum are only able to work after twelve months of it being processed. Even then, they are only allowed to take up jobs that feature on the Shortage Occupation List.

This means they would have to be, for example, a classical ballet dancer or geoenvironmental specialist. They can be the managing director of a mining firm or an engineer in the nuclear industry. The list is quite something.

Many, who are fleeing war and persecution, come with few qualifications, money or belongings, and so clearly would not qualify for these sorts of jobs. But they are barred from undertaking more general, menial work.

Other migrants who want to come to the UK can make a Tier 2 Visa application before they arrive, but they have to earn at least £30,000 and have an offer of employment from a sponsor.

Today, Parliament will hear a second reading of the Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill. Its aim is to give those who are fleeing war and persecution the right to seek employment after three months of being in the UK.

It’s strange that in the world’s fifth richest economy, these conditions cannot be waived for someone whose desperate plight has seen them pack up and leave their home, travelling often hundreds of miles away just to seek sanctuary and safety.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine’s Bill helps to restore some faith and humanity. It means after a short period of time here, asylum seekers can build a life for themselves.

A study by Warwick University found that if just one in four asylum seekers were employed, the government would save more than £70 million a year. That means they are paying taxes rather than being given them.

And ending the ban has public support too. A report by the Lift the Ban coalition found 70 percent of people backed letting asylum seekers work. Voters understand that such a move would improve the life chances and prospects of asylum seekers while helping them contribute to the British coffers.

Even if some decided to return to their countries when it was safe, not only would they take back the skills they’ve learnt but they would be contributing to the UK economy in the meantime. In an era of cutbacks and austerity, that would help us fund our NHS, schools and police services.

The UK did previously allow asylum seekers to work if an outcome on their claim had not been made within six months. That was withdrawn in 2002 after the Home Office said it was now becoming ‘increasingly irrelevant’ because they were making decisions much faster.

But in recent years that appears not to be the case. The number of asylum seekers waiting more than six months for a decision on their application has risen to more than 14,000 – the highest since the figures were recorded.

Having such a long wait to find out if you’ll be sent back to a country you’ve just fled can be an incredibly distressing experience. And being made to live on a daily payment of £5.39 is not enough when you need food, clothes, and other essential items.

It’s time, therefore, we did the decent thing and ended the ban on asylum seekers working. We have a great opportunity here to improve the life chances of that fleeing war and persecution, allowing them to make a valuable contribution to British society. The public wants it. MPs are demanding it. Let’s make it happen.

Jack Gevertz is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organization of immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.