Two thirds of business leaders say people seeking asylum should have the right to work

By September 16, 2019 September 27th, 2019 Press release

Two thirds (67%) of business leaders agree that the Government should lift the ban which blocks people seeking asylum from working, with a majority (64%) also saying they’d expect to see benefits in terms of diversity of experience and skills.

These are among the key findings from a major poll of over 1,000 business leaders commissioned by the Lift the Ban coalition made up of 200 organisations who are calling on the government to restore the right to work for people seeking asylum.

Currently people seeking asylum are banned from working while their claims are being processed by the Home Office. Almost half (48%) must wait more than six months for a decision on their claim, with many people even waiting years.

People seeking asylum can only apply for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision for over 12 months, and even then, only for jobs that are on the Government’s Shortage Occupation List – a severely restrictive list that includes jobs such as classical ballet dancer, geophysicist and bio-informatician.

The Lift the Ban coalition includes charities, trade unions, think tanks, faith groups and businesses. The organisations have joined forces to make the case that people seeking safety in the UK should have the right to work after six months without any restrictions on the role.

Other key findings include:

  • Seven in ten (71%) of the business leaders surveyed agree that it would help integration if people seeking asylum could work
  • Two thirds (66%) believe that allowing people seeking asylum to work would help ease the skills shortage in the UK
  • Whilst the majority (66%) say they would consider hiring someone seeking asylum if they met the skills needed to fill a vacant role in their business

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “Removing the barriers to employment faced by people seeking asylum in the UK is the right thing to do. Asylum seekers do not want to be a burden on their host country and allowing them the right to work would help bring some dignity and normality back to their lives.

“With candidate shortages across the UK economy, even before the UK has left the EU, UK businesses recognise that they can’t afford to waste the skills of those who come here seeking sanctuary. People seeking asylum must be allowed to put their talents to use and earn a fair wage for their contribution.”

Previous research by the coalition has shown that if half of people seeking asylum earned a national average wage, £42.4 million3 would be recouped by the Government through tax and national insurance payments and savings on financial support.

Speaking on behalf of the Lift the Ban coalition, Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: “People seeking refugee status are banned from working whilst they wait months or even years for a decision. They are forced into a life of poverty, left to live on just £5.39 a day without any way of supporting themselves and their families.

“We’re wasting the skills of teachers, engineers, pharmacists and plumbers, who all could be working while they wait for a decision. It’s morally and economically wrong to trap people in limbo and in poverty. It’s time for the government to act now and lift the ban.”

A survey conducted last year by the coalition of 246 people with direct experience of the asylum process revealed 74% had secondary-level education or higher and over a third (37%) held an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree. Nearly two-thirds (65%) 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 showed that 94% of people seeking asylum in the UK want to work. Instead they are left to live on just £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, while their talents go to waste.

Mariyan fled Somali in 2016 after being targeted by a violent jihadist group for working in an admin role for the government there. She was threatened, followed, and they murdered her brother. She fled for her life, leaving behind her children and has been unable to work in the UK while she’s been waiting three years for her asylum decision.

Mariyan said: “I just want to be able to work and support myself. Waiting has impacted me in many ways. Right now, I feel like I’m in prison. Why are they holding me up for long? I’m just in the dark. I want to work and live my life like a normal person. Even if I don’t get a job in my own profession or for my level, I would still do any job.

“People don’t want to leave their countries, they do so because there’s a reason. We should have the right to work while we wait to give focus to our lives and help us integrate better. I believe there needs to be a solution.”