British government policy on asylum seekers

Asylum seekers could bring an additional £42.4m to the economy if they were allowed to work – a move that is overwhelmingly backed by the British public, a new study shows.

Under current rules, people seeking asylum are prevented from working while their claims are being processed. The Home Office aims to deliver decisions within six months, but almost half wait for more than six months, with some waiting years.

Asylum seekers can only apply for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision for more than a year and, even then, only for jobs that are on a restrictive list.

Research by the Lift the Ban coalition, a group of 65 organisations, shows that if half of people seeking asylum earned a national average wage, £42.4m would be recouped by the government through tax and national insurance payments and savings on financial support.

The study also shows that the public is in favour of lifting the ban, with 71 per cent agreeing that people seeking asylum should have the right to work.

A survey of 246 people with direct experience of the asylum process revealed 74 per cent had secondary-level education or higher and over a third, (37 per cent), held an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree.

Nearly two-thirds, (65 per cent), of respondents were working before they came to the UK, even though many of their countries of origin have been at war for years or have some of the world’s lowest employment rates.

The survey also showed that 94 per cent of people seeking asylum in the UK want to work.

Instead, they are left to live on £5.39 a day to meet all their essential living costs, including food, clothing, toiletries and transport. Many struggle to support themselves and their families, and may even become destitute.

A report by the Red Cross earlier this year found that the number of refugees and asylum seekers living in food poverty had soared by 20 per cent in 12 months.

The charity supported 15,000 people experiencing destitution last year, during which it recorded a 20 per cent rise in demand for food parcels and a 43 per cent increase in people needing baby packs since 2016 – with overall distributions now at a five-year high.

Stephen Hale, from Refugee Action, urged the government to “move rapidly” to grant the right to work for people seeking asylum.

“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,” he said.

“It is deeply damaging to those it affects, makes integration far harder, and is bad for the economy and public finances. Lifting the ban has strong public support.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC), said the ban was “cruel and self-defeating”, adding: “We shouldn’t be wasting the talent and skills of these workers.

Once again, the reality of government policy on asylum seekers flies in the face of their oft proclaimed statement that the United Kingdom has “a proud history” of welcoming arrivals from around the world.

But regrettably that is true of vast parts of the Immigration Rules which seem to be drafted to make entry to this country as difficult and expensive as possible despite claims to the contrary.

Nelam Trewin, September 2019