Asylum seekers who are living on as little as £5 per day should be allowed to apply for work, says a UK MP.
Currently, the rules state that those who have applied for asylum are not permitted to take employment in the UK.
But some awaiting a decision for more than six months are living in poverty.
According to government statistics, almost 30,000 people last year waited longer than six months for a decision on their asylum claim – an increase of 77 per cent on the previous year.
As well as surviving on little money, the wait without work may also have a negative impact on the professional confidence of people who can work, a debate about EU withdrawal has heard, reports CoventryLive.
Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, said that “talented, skilful people”, including doctors, teachers, academics, IT professionals and labourers, can be out of work for more than six months while they await the asylum decision which would afford them a normal life.
Working during that time would provide a route out of poverty for many, Ms Owatemi added.
A policy allowing the work rules to change would also benefit the UK economy, the debate heard.
Currently, UK asylum seekers may apply for the right to work if they have been awaiting a decision on their claim for more than a year – but even then, only in a certain number of limited occupations.
Shadow Home Minister Holly Lynch introduced the proposed amendment to the Bill on the grounds that she claims a number of other countries have a swifter policy in allowing people in the asylum system to work, including Ireland, Hungary, France, the United States and Poland.
Ms Lynch’s amendment is seeking changes for EEA nationals and their dependents so that it fell under the scope of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.
At the debate, Ms Owatemi said the amendment was “right and human”.
Many people, she added, “could not even countenance” living on £5 per day.
Ms Owatemi said: “We must remember that they are talented, skilful people; some are doctors, teachers, academics or labourers, and even some are in the IT profession.
“They are people who are able to contribute what they can, within the rules, but they must wait over six months before they can even get a decision on whether they can lead a relatively normal life.
“Lifting the ban would allow them to work, should they not receive a decision within six months.”
Refugee Action and the Lift the Ban coalition has a number of their findings referenced during the debate by Ms Lynch, including:
- 52 per cent of survey respondents reported using a foodbank within the last 12 months (before lockdown)
- Policy change could benefit the UK economy by up to £42.4m
- 71 per cent of the public agreed that people seeking asylum should be allowed to work
- 94 per cent of respondents with direct experience of the asylum process said they would like to work with permission
- 74 per cent of survey participants had secondary level education and 37 per cent had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree
An expert in the process said that many experience a loss of self-esteem caused by their experience in the asylum system.
Julian Walters, employment team leader at Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, said some get ‘stuck’ at the job stage.
“They are people who speak perfect English, who have qualifications and who want to be active in the UK economy,” he said.
“They come to the UK with hope, because there was zero hope where they were coming from. But the psychological effect of that first experience, knowing they are at the bottom… It stays with them.
“People go into unskilled or semi-skilled jobs and stay there. They feel that’s the only choice for them – they have no other narrative.”
Mr Walters said the issue with asylum system backlogs may be exacerbated by whether new UK arrivals are from a country where problems of civil unrest are well known.
For example, refugees from Syria – the location of a war which has had huge global news coverage – may have claims processed faster than people arriving from countries without such a prominent news profile.