Market shortages create 'illegal work'

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The Independent Online

In theory, asylum-seekers are forbidden to earn money while their applications to settle in Britain are processed. But, in practice, many slip into an unregulated, shadowy world of illegal work that highlights shortages in the labour market and the ruthlessness of "gangmasters" exploiting them.

In theory, asylum-seekers are forbidden to earn money while their applications to settle in Britain are processed. But, in practice, many slip into an unregulated, shadowy world of illegal work that highlights shortages in the labour market and the ruthlessness of "gangmasters" exploiting them.

The legal status of the Chinese victims of the Morecambe Bay tragedy is not known but thousands of asylum-seekers pick flowers or fruit, cook in takeaway restaurants or toil on building sites. They work alongside the unknown numbers of illegal immigrants who have arrived in the country without claiming asylum, but whose labour is increasingly in demand.

About 4,000 people claim asylum every month, half the record levels of a year ago but still a large number to process. They are housed in emergency accommodation, typically a basic hostel where they are given full board but no money. Refugees are then dispersed around the country, to live with friends or relatives or to housing provided by the National Asylum Support Service. Most are destitute and are paid a weekly allowance of £38.26 ­ 70 per cent of income support.

Until two years ago, asylum-seekers were allowed to work if their claim took more than six months to settle. But that concession was removed as the Government decided to concentrate on rapidly increasing the numbers of work permits to foreign nationals. A Home Office spokesman said: "Asylum is for those who are genuinely fleeing persecution and is not a back door to working illegally."

But it appears that the relatively low allowances paid to asylum-seekers and long periods of enforced idleness that they face make them vulnerable to the more unscrupulous of Britain's 5,000 "gangmasters".

There are few deterrents for employers who want to dip into the pool of migrants. Although it is unlawful, with fines of up to £5,000 for "knowingly or negligently" employing an illegal immigrant, there is no requirement to check a prospective employee's papers, making it very difficult to secure a conviction.

A spokesman for the Refugee Council said it did not condone law-breaking, but he added: "If people are in the country and are willing and able to work they should be allowed to. Historically, refugees have made contributions to the UK through work."

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