Legislation seeking to change the law so asylum seekers can work while waiting for their cases to be processed will be put forward by an Edinburgh MP this week. Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine will bring a private members’ bill on Thursday that would allow asylum seekers the right to work after three months in the UK.
The move comes as the UK’s asylum system is in the spotlight over the UK government’s response to a rise in the number of people making the Channel crossing from France.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid questioned whether the 239 people who have made the crossing since November, many of whom come from Iran, are genuine asylum seekers, and said the government “will do everything we can” to stop them settling in the UK.
His comments were criticised by aid groups, who say the government’s response – which includes redeploying two Border Force vessels from the Mediterranean, backed up by a Royal Navy patrol boat – risks inflaming anti-refugee sentiments.
“Right now, people who risk everything to come to the UK seeking sanctuary, with valuable skills and experience to offer, are being stripped of their dignity and condemned to an existence on the very periphery of our society,” Jardine said.
“Instead, we need to recognise the contribution they could make and lift the ban which prevents most genuine asylum seekers from working, allowing them to seek employment after three months of claiming sanctuary.
“It would help people learn English and contribute to society, while saving the taxpayer millions in support and housing payments.”
Restrictions on asylum seekers working in the UK are among the toughest in the western world.
In Greece, Canada and Sweden, asylum seekers can look for work immediately, while in the US and the rest of the EU, employment is only restricted for between one and nine months of an asylum claim being lodged.
Until 2002, asylum seekers could apply for the right to work if they had been waiting more than six months for their claims to be processed.
Currently, asylum seekers may only apply for permission to work if they have been waiting more than 12 months for an initial response from the Home Office, and only in jobs on a list of specialised occupations where there is a labour shortage.
Asylum seekers are assigned a place to live by authorities and are given £37.75 each per week.
Lift the Ban, a coalition of 80 organisations pushing for a change in the law, say the government could save £42 million a year if restrictions on working were eased.
Nationwide polling carried out in 2018 by ICM for the British Future think tank and campaign group Hope Not Hate found 71 per cent agreed that asylum seekers should be able to work to ease their integration into local communities.
A survey of 246 people who had experience of claiming asylum in the UK by Lift the Ban found that 94 per cent wanted to work.
Jardine added: “Scotland has always been dependent on waves of immigration and allowing these people to work can help to ensure that we have a strong workforce to keep our economy buoyant and maintain the socially cohesive society from which we all benefit.
“I was extremely disappointed that the immigration white paper released by the government before Christmas didn’t commit to a review of the overly restrictive system in place for those seeking sanctuary in the UK. That’s why I’ve decided to take things into my own hands, and I urge sensible colleagues on all sides of the House to support my bill – surely this one’s a no-brainer?”