Refugees could cut skills shortages <u>and</u> pay &Acirc;&pound;100m tax

Report: Allowing asylum-seekers to work would boost economy
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The Independent Online

Thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers who have been trained as doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals are being denied the opportunity to work in Britain because of government restrictions on their employment and education rights.

Thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers who have been trained as doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals are being denied the opportunity to work in Britain because of government restrictions on their employment and education rights.

The skills and experience of up to 5,000 foreign academics seeking refuge in this country could be worth more than £100m to the economy. Yet, despite being qualified for professions where there are desperate shortages, many are being forced to live on benefits or take low-paid manual jobs.

Instead of working in their chosen careers, paying taxes and helping to address Britain's skills shortages, these professionals find themselves legally barred from jobs and prevented from educating others. They are also a needless drain on the British taxpayer.

Those who are given indefinite leave to remain are allowed to work, but most cannot afford to pay for the paperwork that they need to secure their former professional jobs.

John Akker, executive secretary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (Cara) said: "This is such an appalling waste of a huge pool of talent and expertise, as well as costing the country millions in benefits and other costs that could be saved.

"Doctors, scientists and academics are often first to be targeted by regimes, because they speak out, have a voice and galvanise other people, such as students in universities. Many of the refugee and asylum-seeker academics in this country have lived through terrible times and traumas. They desperately want to work here and contribute, and yet they are barred at every turn. The Government seems more intent on trying to show it is being tough on asylum than on capitalising on this untapped talent."

Under government rules that were supposed to counter criticism that people were benefiting from the process, asylum applicants are barred from working until a decision has been made on their status. So thousands of well-educated professionals have to remain on benefits for months and sometimes years while their asylum applications are heard.

Even if they are granted leave to stay in this country, refugee academics are often left in limbo because they cannot apply for student loans and other help that could enable them to convert their foreign qualifications to British ones.

There are at least 1,000 refugee and asylum-seeker doctors in Britain who could work but cannot, a Cara report shows. For an overseas-qualified doctor to gain the certification and registration to work in Britain, costs £1,000 and a few months, against seven years and £250,000 to train a "home grown" medic. Britain is short of 3,000 dentists; there are an estimated 700 refugees and asylum-seekers with dental training and qualifications.

The Cara report says thousands more professionals, such as mechanical engineers, economists, teachers and scientists are also on benefits even after gaining asylum and work permits. Mr Akker said: "These are people who come to this country often with only the clothes they have on them. They have no money. On average, it would only take a few months and a few thousand pounds to get them to a point where they could work in their professions, but they do not get any student loans or help, and if they take a course, they lose all their benefits. We have heard of highly qualified doctors working as cleaners, and scientists taking jobs as waiters because they cannot get basic help and support."

Last year, a Home Office audit of people granted asylum found two-thirds had been working in their own country of origin. Half had more than 10 years of education, comparable to British standards. Of the 3,000 questioned, 22 per cent had been managers or senior officials, 15 per cent were in professional occupations and 23 per cent were in skilled trades.

Frances O'Grady, deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: "It is tragic that so many talented individuals are denied the opportunity to maximise their potential, especially when we are crying out for their skills in so many areas."

The TUC and Cara offer a handbook to help refugee academics convert their skills after being granted leave to remain. It can be obtained by e-mailing info@cara.lsbu.ac.uk

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