Asylum seeker employment ban should be lifted, says government’s migration advisory body

Home Office urged to publish evidence to support claim that asylum work ban creates ‘pull factor’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 16 December 2021 09:51
<p>The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said there was ‘clear evidence’ of the ‘harm’ the employment ban causes</p>

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said there was ‘clear evidence’ of the ‘harm’ the employment ban causes

The ban on work for asylum seekers in the UK should be lifted, the government’s migration advisory body has said, one week after the Home Office concluded that the policy should remain.

In its annual report, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) calls on ministers to review the policy, saying there was “clear evidence” of the “harm” the employment ban causes, and “little evidence” that it was aware of that it provides significant benefits.

Currently, asylum seekers in the UK are banned from working. Those who have been waiting for a decision for more than 12 months can apply for the right to work – but they can only take jobs in a very limited list of professions known as the Shortage Occupation List.

Last week, the Home Office published the long-waited findings of its review into the policy, concluding that the ban must remain in place in order to “reduce pull factors to the UK, and ensure our policies do not encourage people to undercut the resident labour force”.

However, the findings were published in the form of a written parliamentary statement, and were not accompanied by a full report or evidence to support them.

Professor Brian Bell, chair of the MAC, told reporters on Wednesday that he had not seen evidence to back up the “pull factor” assessment, and said that it was “incumbent” on ministers to make this public.

“It’s not enough to say: ‘There’s a pull factor’. You’ve got to have evidence to support that, and that’s all we’re suggesting the government produces […] You can’t come to conclusions if you’re not willing to tell us what the evidence is on one side of the equation,” he said.

When asked by The Independent for the evidence backing up its review’s findings, the Home Office declined to provide it.

In its report, the MAC report states that, asylum seekers may become “disengaged” with the labour market while awaiting a decision on their claim, making it harder for them to integrate if they are ultimately granted asylum in the UK. Almost half of asylum claims were granted at initial decision stage in the last year, and many go on to win on appeal.

Professor Bell said: “We think the ban should be lifted because it’s clear that the benefit for both the asylum seeker themselves in terms of being able to stay attached to the labour market and acquiring skills that then can be used as stepping stones to better jobs, but also the benefit to the UK economic as well, are significant, and long-lasting.”

The UK’s policy on rights to work for asylum seekers is more restrictive than in many other countries. EU law specifies that asylum seekers must be allowed access to the labour market after a maximum of nine months.

Many EU countries do so after a shorter period, such as Sweden, which grants access immediately, and Germany, which does so after three months. In Canada and Australia asylum seekers can work immediately, and in the US they can do so after six months.

The MAC report states that, as waiting times for asylum applicants have increased, the work restriction has the potential to become more detrimental to the long-run success in the UK of those ultimately granted asylum.

As of the end of June 2021, there were around 56,600 asylum applications pending an initial decision, of which 75 per cent had been waiting for longer than six months. This compared with 33 per cent five years ago.

The report states: “We urge the government to review the ban on employment for asylum seekers. There is clear evidence of the harm that this causes, some of which we document in this report, and little evidence that we are aware of that it provides significant benefits.

“The harm is exacerbated by the increasing numbers of asylum seekers who are having to wait over six months for an initial decision on their application.”

The MAC’s annual report also called for immigration rules on care worker jobs to be relaxed “immediately” to temper “severe and increasing difficulties” the sector is facing with recruitment and retention.

It advised that the jobs be made eligible for the Health and Care Visa and placed on the shortage occupation list (SOL), which is designed to help migrants get work visas to fill jobs where there are shortages.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “We have been clear asylum seekers should not be allowed to work unless their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more – this has recently been reviewed and will not change."

He added on care workers: “The shortage occupation list includes senior care workers and last year we introduced the Health and Care Visa to support the sector to recruit the staff it needs – but businesses need to make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce, including offering hard working care workers the rewarding packages they deserve.”

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