Author: Jamie Grierson
Asylum seekers blocked from working in the UK could make a net contribution of £42m to the economy if restrictive rules were lifted, in a move that would have overwhelming public support, a new coalition group has said.
People seeking asylum in the UK are only allowed to work if they have been waiting on a claim for 12 months or more and they can fill a role on the shortage occupation list, which includes positions such as classical ballet dancers and geophysicists.
This means people are essentially banned from working while they wait months, and often years, for a decision on their claim, living on the £5.39 a day the government provides.
The Lift the Ban coalition, made up of 80 organisations including non-profit organisations, thinktanks, businesses and faith groups, is calling on the government to give asylum seekers and their adult dependents the right to work after waiting six months for a decision on their claim, and unconstrained by the shortage occupation list.
The Home Office aims to process all initial asylum claims within six months, but in reality 48% go beyond that target.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It’s madness that people fleeing the horrors of conflict and persecution are unable to work for long periods after they arrive in the UK. It is deeply damaging to those it affects, makes integration far harder and is bad for the UK economy and public finances. Lifting the ban has strong public support.
“People seeking asylum tell us every day that they feel worthless and that being unable to use their skills over a long period of time forces them to be dependent. They want to give back to the country that has protected them. It’s time for change. We urge the government to move rapidly to grant the right to work for people seeking asylum.”
In a report that details arguments in support of the change, Lift the Ban estimates that if half of the 11,000 asylum seekers aged 18 or over who are waiting on a decision were able to work full-time on the national average wage, the government would receive £31.6m a year from their tax and national insurance contributions (NICs). It would also save £10.8m on the cash support it provides.
About 94% of the asylum seekers the coalition surveyed said they would like to work if they had permission, 74% had secondary-level education or higher and 37% held an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. The latter figure is close to the 42% of the total UK population classed as graduates.
The most common case against relaxing the rules on asylum seekers’ rights to work is the so-called pull factor, which argues that foreigners would deliberately travel to the UK to seek asylum in order to access the labour market.
The report says researchers have widely discredited this argument, including one study commissioned by the Home Office that showed little to no evidence of a link between economic rights and entitlements and the destination choices of those seeking asylum.
Members of the public would be broadly supportive of lifting the ban on work, according to expansive polling by the thinktank British Future, which found 71% agreed it would help integration if asylum seekers were allowed to work after six months waiting for their claim to be processed.
The support cuts across the political divide, with 63% of Brexit supporters agreeing with the move and 78% of remainers backing it. No other European country, the US or Canada enforces such a restrictive waiting period, the report says.