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Right to Work: There is No New Scheme for People Seeking Asylum

By January 22, 2024News story

Following media reports this weekend that the Government has introduced a scheme to give people seeking asylum the right to work, the Lift the Ban Coalition would like to clarify the facts about labour market access for people in the asylum system.

To confirm, there is no new scheme that broadens the right to work for people seeking asylum.

The rules that are in place now are the same rules that have existed since 2010: people seeking asylum may only apply for work if they have been waiting for their asylum decision for more than 12 months.

Once they have been granted permission to work, they are only allowed to apply for jobs that are on the Government’s shortage occupation list.

While the rules remain the same, two things have changed.

Firstly, the Government has increased the number of jobs on the shortage occupation list, a change that is not specific to people seeking asylum but relevant for immigration as a whole. 

Secondly, the Government’s failure to make timely decisions on asylum applications meant larger numbers of people waiting for more than a year on their claims and therefore becoming eligible to apply for permission to work. 

However, having the permission to work does not mean people have a job. People seeking asylum face huge obstacles finding employment, such as being restricted only to jobs on the shortage occupation list. 

The UK is harsher than all other comparative countries when it comes to the right to work for people seeking asylum. Nations in the EU, North America and Australasia allow people to work unconstrained by job lists and much sooner after they place their asylum applications.

And despite repeated claims by ministers that broadening the right to work would be a “pull factor”, no evidence has ever been produced to support this view.

In fact, the Home Office’s own report found that most people go to a country to claim asylum for reasons such as family and community and a sense of justice and rule of law. The role of welfare rights and labour market access is “limited” in their decision making process..

The Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee has challenged the Government to produce evidence of a pull factor (in 2021 and again in 2022) but still none has been presented.

The Lift the Ban Coalition, made up of more than 300 businesses, trade unions, charities, faith groups and think tanks, will continue to campaign to allow people seeking asylum to work after six months of waiting for a decision on their claim, and unconstrained by the shortage occupation list.