No Case For Expanding Working Rights Of Asylum Seekers


Employment, Policy

  • The majority of 355,000 asylum claims decided in the UK since 2004 have been rejected
  • Extending working rights would encourage abuse of the asylum system for the purpose of ‘back-door’ economic immigration
  • This would further undermine public confidence in immigration control
  • Instead, the Home Office should process claims more efficiently

A number of non-governmental organisations have called for those who have made a claim for asylum to be granted enhanced rights to work in the UK.

The UK currently allows asylum seekers to work if their cases have not been decided after 12 months provided that the job is on the government’s official Shortage Occupation List.

“Lift the Ban” call for the minimum period before which asylum seekers can seek employment to be cut in half, from the current 12 months to just six months and for no restriction to be placed on the work they can do.

The UK has control over its own policies in this area as do other EU member states (see our 2013 paper: ‘Asylum seekers and the right to work in the EEA’). The various sets of rules range from Lithuania, which does not allow asylum seekers to work at all, to Sweden, which has minimal restrictions on the working rights of asylum seekers.

We believe that there is no need to shorten the current period of twelve months in the UK nor to widen the range of jobs. Indeed, doing so would only further undermine support for genuine asylum applicants, as well as public confidence in immigration control.

Firstly, expanding working rights for asylum claimants would risk encouraging the use of asylum as a back-door form of economic migration and would likely increase the numbers seeking to come to the UK for this purpose.

The UK already has an average of 26,000 asylum applications each year (over half of which are rejected) at a time when transcontinental, economically-induced secondary migration is already a huge challenge and in a period when the public already have a low level of trust in the government’s ability to deal with it.

Secondly, amending the rules in this way would encourage bogus claimants to spin out the application process in order to gain permission to work. As the European Migration Network has found, some asylum seekers purposely destroy their documentation.[1] This can sometimes be a deliberate attempt to conceal the fact that they are not from a country where they are at serious risk, and it can add considerable delays to the process.

Often, however, the process is lengthy as a result of inadequate resources rather than fraud by the claimant. The total size of the government’s asylum workload doubled from 40,000 cases in 2012 to 80,000 cases in 2017 (Home Office asylum data). The number of people waiting more than six months for a decision on an asylum claim had risen to more than 14,500 by mid-2018, the highest since records began.

There is a clear need therefore for the government’s detained fast-track asylum proposals to be approved and implemented as speedily as possible (for more information see paragraph 39 of our recent paper).

Thirdly, implementing this proposal would blur the distinction between genuine cases and others with the overall effect of reducing public support for the asylum system. The public are willing to help those in genuine need. Yet that generosity is reliant on the accurate and efficient separation of genuine from bogus claims (see our paper on why the key distinction between the terms ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ is crucial).

Those working for the immigration lobby can often be careless in their use of the definitions.

For instance, the chief executive of Refugee Action recently noted: 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.

This assertion ignores the essential fact that a very significant proportion of asylum seekers not genuine refugees and are therefore not ‘fleeing the horrors of conflict and persecution’. Since 2004, 55% of all asylum applications have been rejected, including after appeal, according to Home Office asylum outcome analysis.

In 2016, the Vice-President of the European Commission quoted Frontex figures which revealed that, of migrants who arrived in the EU in December 2015, 60% had come for economic reasons and were not entitled to asylum or humanitarian protection. Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 claims by those who had been discovered by the authorities to be in the UK illegally were rejected between 2005 and 2014.

Finally, removing the constraint that the job needs to be on the Shortage Occupation List, as ‘Lift the Ban’ would like, means that thousands of asylum claimants would likely go to work in low-paid, unskilled jobs. In some regions this could affect the prospects for unskilled UK workers

Indeed, the OECD has warned that asylum seekers and refugees run the risk of damaging the job prospects of low-skilled young people in Germany, Austria and Sweden as more people compete for jobs.

It has been claimed that enacting this proposal would encourage integration. However, given a more-than-50% chance that an asylum claim will not be granted (based on the figures outcome analysis from 2004 onwards), it makes little sense to encourage integration until a case is decided. To do otherwise would give them grounds to include in their inevitable appeal.

[1] European Migration Network, “Establishing Identity for International Protection: Challenges and Practices Synthesis Report”, 25.

18th October 2018

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