Asylum seekers should be given wider rights to work in the UK, according to justice secretary Dominic Raab.
Writing in the Spectator magazine said he was open-minded about allowing asylum seekers to work, adding that companies should employ ex-prisoners to fill vacancies instead of demanding more visas for foreign workers.
His comments add to those of recently sacked justice secretary Robert Buckland, who last week called for the government to allow those seeking asylum to be allowed to work.
Raab said that asylum seekers could help alleviate the UK’s labour shortages and that employment would help them to learn the language and integrate into society when they were granted asylum.
The former foreign secretary wrote that employing former prisoners and offenders serving community sentences would also help to cut reoffending because it would “give people skin in the game, give them something to lose” and “give them some hope”.
Raab, himself the son of migrants, wrote: “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,” he said.
Asylum seekers can generally only apply for work in the UK if their claim takes more than a year for an initial decision and if any delay to their claim was the fault of the government. If they are granted the right to work, they can only work in certain professions that are experiencing labour shortages.
Right to work in the UK
With a backlog of about 64,000 asylum seekers awaiting a decision, there is certainly a significant potential labour pool that could be mobilised. However, many of the roles suffering from shortages, such as HGV drivers, are not on the list.
Although then home secretary Sajid Javid in late 2018 signalled the government was reviewing asylum seekers’ employment rules, telling parliament he would like to review the ban, a senior Home Office official earlier this month denied any changes were afoot.
Asked by a member of the home affairs select committee if a review was under way, the second permanent secretary Tricia Hayes said: “We do not have any plans to revise those parameters at this time.
“We support people, but we are not looking to change the terms and conditions at this time.”
There are many opponents to any change in the rules within the government who argue that more favourable rights for asylum seekers would make the UK more attractive to those looking to make Channel crossing and would make people smuggling more attractive.
Last week, Buckland called for the government to allow those seeking asylum to be allowed to work. He said: “This already happens in Denmark. That system, I’d say, is well worth a look.”
For immigration partner at Bates Wells Chetal Patel, the idea that any changes such as outlined by Raab could have an impact on the current predicament were wide of the mark. She said: ““Whilr this is an interesting proposition, in reality, there are some major shortcomings.
“Lots of the industries where there are severe scarcities are not on the Shortage Occupation list. Unless this requirement is dropped, the policy will not be very effective in practice. Changing policy takes time – labour shortages are pressing issues that need to be dealt with urgently.”
Across Europe, there are wide variations in rules on asylum seekers’ employment rights. In many countries asylum seekers can apply to work if they are still awaiting a decision on their asylum application after six months. This is the case in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Poland and Spain an asylum seeker can work without restrictions after six months. In Switzerland it is three months, but with additional restrictions.
In Sweden asylum seekers can apply for work as soon as they have established their identity and their application isn’t obviously unfounded. Austria and Greece also have no time restriction but labour market tests are applied and certainly in Austria, many asylum seekers applying to work are turned down.
The UK’s position is more akin to that of France, Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania and Slovakia where asylum seekers may be able to work after 12 months. Again, in some of these countries labour market tests may apply in these countries to ensure positions can not be filled by a member of the domestic labour force.
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