Yesterday, the UK government announced that it would be maintaining the ban on asylum seekers working in the UK. Explaining the government’s reasoning, Tom Pursglove, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, stated:
"The Home Office has therefore concluded that the fiscal benefits arising from a relaxation of the right to work policy are likely to be significantly lower than the figures claimed by Lift the Ban. In light of wider priorities to fix the broken asylum system, reduce pull factors to the UK, and ensure our policies do not encourage people to undercut the resident labour force, we are retaining our asylum seeker right to work policy with no further changes."
This assessment, focusing solely on cost implications, demonstrates that the government’s review of the policy was in effect a sham.
The refusal to lift the ban lacks common, human and financial sense. Whilst the government’s lack of empathy for asylum seekers’ wellbeing is not surprising, as the Conservative party frequently and loudly proclaims its fiscal expertise, it remains shocking to see them deny healthy, working-age people the right to work when the UK is suffering from labour shortages in so many sectors. The government’s alternative to lifting the ban is to instead create more temporary visas butchers, poultry workers and HGV drivers. This misses the point entirely.
This also is not good politics. Research by Refugee Action strongly suggests that the public support lifting the ban. A survey conducted in Witham, constituency seat of Home Secretary Priti Patel, found that 70% of voters favoured lifting the ban. This constituency seat has existed since 2010 and has only ever known a Conservative MP. If support for lifting the ban stands at 70% here, then support throughout the rest of the country is almost certainly higher.
More important than any financial costs though are the human costs. Waiting times for decisions on asylum claims have increased dramatically in recent years, no doubt partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the end of March 2021, over 50,000 people had been waiting for over six months for a decision on their claim. During that period, not only are asylum claimants perpetually facing the threat of being deported to a country where they fear persecution, but they have no choice but to wait idly, unable to contribute and utilise their skills.
Throughout this period, many will also be housed by the Home Office, at public expense. If permitted to work, asylum seekers could fund their own accommodation. Not only would this save the public money, but also allow asylum seekers to begin building a life in the UK.
RAMFEL work with many asylum seekers who have been waiting lengthy periods for a decision on their claims. We see the damage the current policy causes.
One of our clients, Amanda, is a UK qualified solicitor who was working and paying tax here for many years. Due to an administrative error, her sponsorship visa was revoked and she thereafter claimed asylum in the UK. Amanda has now been waiting a year for her decision on her claim, unable to work, contributing nothing despite her eagerness and ability to do so.
Similarly, our client, Janet, is a qualified healthcare worker with five years of experience working in the health and care sector in the UK. Janet has been waiting for a decision on her asylum claim for over 2 and a half years. She has been unable to work to use her valuable skills and experience despite the health and care sector in the UK facing a severe staffing crisis during the pandemic. Janet is stuck in limbo, and finds it deeply distressing that having been working full time and self-sufficient, she now relies on charity from friends just to survive.
It is truly shocking that the government has disputed the level of cost savings that could be achieved by lifting the ban as its main reason for maintaining the status quo. They have opted to preserve a wasteful system and disregard the overwhelming weight of evidence, backed by the public and by business, in support of reform.
No one benefits from maintaining the ban on asylum seekers working. But the UK public foot the bill, and more importantly people like Amanda and Janet wait patiently, unable to use their skills and contribute as various UK sectors remain understaffed.
*Names have been changed in order to protect identities.