Senior Tories back calls to give asylum seekers right to work

Dominic Raab, Steve Baker and other prominent Conservatives suggest Home Office should lift ban on work for asylum seekers to allow them to integrate and make ‘positive contribution’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 30 September 2021 16:23 BST
Dominic Raab, whose father fled from Czechoslovakia as a child, said permitting asylum seekers to work would be beneficial for society
Dominic Raab, whose father fled from Czechoslovakia as a child, said permitting asylum seekers to work would be beneficial for society (AP)

Senior Tories have signalled support the idea that asylum seekers in the UK should be allowed to work, saying it would assist with integration and help to resolve the country’s labour shortages.

In a move that diverts from the Home Office’s current position, justice secretary Dominic Raab said removing the ban on employment for people claiming asylum would allow them to make a “positive contribution”.

His remarks have been echoed by Steve Baker, Tory MP and former chair of the European Research Group (ERG), who told The Independent it was “madness” that the Home Office did not permit asylum seekers to work.

The comments will be welcomed by campaigners, who this week accused ministers of “kicking the can down the road” on their promise to review the asylum work ban, which the government first said it would carry out three years ago.

Currently, asylum seekers in the UK are not normally allowed to work while their claims are being considered, and instead have to rely on the Home Office for their accommodation and essential living needs.

When asked about the possibility of allowing this cohort to work to help solve the labour shortage during an interview with the Spectator, Mr Raab said he was “open-minded” about it.

He added: “What you want to try to do is turn this debate around, because the big challenge with migration over the last 20, 30 years – which probably wasn’t true when my father came here – is this sense that we just don’t integrate people well enough.

“If they learn the language and they can work, they integrate much better and they make a positive contribution.”

Mr Raab also put forward the idea of hiring prisoners to plug workforce shortages, saying this would be beneficial for both the economy and society, adding: “Give them something to lose, if you give them some hope, they’re much less likely to re-offend.”

Steve Baker, Conservative MP for Wycombe, echoed Mr Raab’s comments on allowign asylum seekers to work, saying: “Of course people should be allowed to support themselves through work once we have allowed entry pending an asylum decision.

“What madness is it that we would hold them in poverty while taking a slow decision? Let them work.”

David Simmonds, Tory MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, meanwhile pointed out that allowing the UK’s almost 64,000 asylum seekers to be employed would help the UK recover from the pandemic, describing such as move as “completely logical”.

“It would ensure people’s skills aren’t going to waste, and they can earn the money to support themselves, so it helps the taxpayer as well. Given we know three-quarters of asylum seekers are ultimately granted asylum, it helps to make sure they’re able to play a useful part in the life of their new home country,” he said.

“It means they aren’t left on the shelf waiting, and puts their skills as carpenters, teachers or indeed HGV drivers to good use. It’s a wise course of action to create that opportunity, as is already the case in many other countries.”

Asked whether such a move could incentivise more people to come to the UK to seek asylum, Mr Simmonds said: “I’m not sure there is. We know one of the big issues is that asylum seekers may well be working in the grey economy anyway, and it’s right that we should make the most of the opportunity for people to become taxpaying citizens.”

It comes days after the recently sacked justice secretary Robert Buckland hinted support at lifting the ban on work for asylum seekers, writing in the Spectator: “Backbenchers can, of course, speak their mind a little more freely than government ministers.

“So it is perhaps safe for me to say that I was interested to read the leading article of last week’s Spectator suggesting that asylum seekers should be allowed to work as they wait for their claims to be processed. This already happens in Denmark. That system, I’d say, is well worth a look.”

In December 2018, the-then home secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that he would like to review the ban on work for asylum seekers. When asked about asylum seekers’ right to work in July 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson said the Home Office was currently “reviewing that matter” and that his government would be “making an announcement shortly”.

Last November, the-then immigration minister Chris Philp said a review was “ongoing” and that he would “report back as soon as [the Home Office was] able to complete it”.

However, when asked if the department was looking into the matter during an evidence session with the Home Affairs Select Committee last Thursday, second permanent secretary for the Home Office, Tricia Hayes, said there were “no plans” to do so.

The Home Office later told The Independent Ms Hayes had “misspoken” and that the review was in fact “ongoing” – but campaigners expressed concern that her response indicated the department was not taking it seriously.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Asylum seeker right to work is a complex issue and is under review. It is crucial we take the time to get this right. We are listening carefully to the arguments and considering the evidence put forward on the issue.”

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