Home Office work policy for asylum seekers unlawful, High Court rules

Migrants wrongly denied right to work because policy failed to consider impact on children, says judge

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 05 October 2021 09:22
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<p>Asylum-seeking Honduran national Allan Cordona says his family has lived in poverty for nearly three years due to Home Office policy preventing him working </p>

Asylum-seeking Honduran national Allan Cordona says his family has lived in poverty for nearly three years due to Home Office policy preventing him working

The Home Office policy on granting asylum seekers permission to work broke the law by failing to adequately consider the best interests of children, the High Court has ruled.

Ministers are being urged to take a “more humane” approach when considering granting people who are seeking asylum the right to work, after a judge ruled that its guidance failed to consider the “adverse impact” on the child when their parents are banned from working.

Asylum seekers in the UK are not generally allowed to get a job, but they can apply for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision for more than a year.

Even if they are granted permission, they are usually only allowed to work in jobs on the Shortage Occupation list, which is comprised of skilled, mainly post-graduate professions, which make up only one per cent of the jobs market. Many asylum seekers do not qualify for any of these jobs.

The claimant in the case, Honduran national Allan Cordona, 24, has waited nearly three years, along with his wife and four-year-old daughter, for an asylum decision.

He was granted the right to work in a job on the Shortage Occupation list in 2019, but he did not have the skills or qualifications that would enable him to take up one of these professions.

Mr Cordona requested exemption from this narrow list, but the Home Office refused to grant it, which he said left his family reliant on food banks and unable to afford basic essentials such as warm clothes.

He subsequently launched legal action, and in a court ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Linden ordered that the Home Office must reconsider its decision on his case.

The judge agreed with Mr Cordona and his lawyers’ argument that the Home Office’s permission to work policy for asylum seekers failed to meet its obligations in respect of the best interests of children.

The Home Office has updated the guidance since the legal challenge was brought, but lawyers argue that the changes fail to rectify the issue and say they may seek to challenge the updated version.

Mr Justice Linden said the Home Office’s guidance on the policy could “mislead” caseworkers into believing that it was “very unlikely that refusal of permission to work would impact adversely on a child of the applicant”, rather than consider the “actual adverse impact” on the child.

Mr Cordona arrived in the UK in September 2018 with his wife, Veury Hernandez, and their daughter, Zoeth, after fleeing from a powerful gang in Honduras, where he served as a police officer. They decided to flee to Britain because they have close relatives already settled in the country.

The 24-year-old told The Independent the court’s decision was a “huge relief” and had “reaffirmed [his] faith in the British justice system”, adding: “I now have a chance of working and providing for my family.’’

‘‘We have really struggled to survive on the limited amount of money that we receive which works out to be £5 per day per person. The pandemic compounded our problems and we struggled to buy food as well [as] cleaning equipment, masks, and hand sanitisers,” he added.

“We are also struggling to buy winter clothes and school uniforms for our daughter who has started school last month.”

In evidence to the court, Mr Cordona said: “I am kept awake every night worrying about Zoeth and the psychological impact our current situation is having on her. Even at local budget stores which are comparatively a lot cheaper, the cost of such items is well out of our reach.

“I have worked hard all my life. It is extremely difficult to just sit at home and not do anything to relieve the financial pressure that my family is facing at present.”

Home Office figures show that, at the end of June 2021, there were 56,617 asylum cases awaiting an initial decision, relating to 70,905 people. This does not include those who are in the process of appealing initial decisions.

Syed Naqvi, the solicitor who brought the case, said: “Not providing asylum applicants with a right to work whilst they have pending asylum claims can have extremely harmful consequences for asylum seekers and their family members including young children.

“We hope that the Home Office will now reflect on the criticism levelled at its approach in today’s judgement and will take a more humane approach when considering right to work requests from asylum applicants, particularly in cases involving young children.”

Mr Naqvi said the Home Office’s updated policy made no reference to the position of children and argued that it did “nothing” to address the problems identified by the court. He said he was considering launching a further legal challenge against the updated version.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

It comes amid mounting calls for asylum seekers to be given the right to work, prompted in part by the severe labour shortages across Britain.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab signalled support for the idea last week, telling the Spectator it would assist with integration and help to plug gaps in the workforce.

Other Tory MPs echoed his remarks, with Steve Baker telling The Independent it was “madness” that asylum seekers were not permitted to work and David Simmonds describing the ban as “completely logical”.

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