Right now, right here in the UK, people seeking refugee status are banned from working whilst they wait months, and often years, for a decision on their asylum claim.
Instead, they are left to live on just £5.66 per day, struggling to support themselves and their families, whilst the Government wastes the talents of thousands of people.
We think that’s wrong. We believe that people who have risked everything to find safety should have the best chance of contributing to our society and integrating into our communities. This means giving people seeking asylum the right to work so that they can use their skills and live in dignity.
The Lift the Ban coalition is working to change this. Together, we believe we can #LiftTheBan and ensure that people seeking safety in the UK have the right to work.
Uthman has dreamt of becoming a doctor from a very young age. Yet fleeing persecution in Sudan meant he was not able to pursue his dream.
Leaving his wife and mother behind, Uthman spent years on the run, fleeing from country to country, in search of safety. He was shot, beaten and imprisoned. He would often go hungry and sleep in the cold. He was losing hope until he finally reached the UK.
Uthman claimed asylum as soon as he arrived. He had an interview more than a year ago and since then has been waiting for someone to let him know his fate. Yet, there has been nothing but silence.
This silence and not having anything to occupy his long days with, as he’s prevented from working, is exhausting Uthman mentally and physically.
“Sometimes, I forget to eat because I am constantly worrying and thinking about the unknown,” says Uthman. “I wish I could work so I can take my mind off things.”
The 24-year-old, who used to work in his family’s shop and in a textile factory in Sudan says that he would take up any job if he was given legal permission to work.
He says working would allow him to meet people, learn the language, and begin to integrate. “I want to learn about the work environment in this country and the values of the people of this country. But as long as I’m banned from working, I cannot do any of these things.”
“I wish I could work and pay taxes like other people here. I want to be able to say that I am too contributing to society.”
He says that trying to survive on the little money he receives in financial support, has been extremely difficult. He calculates every penny in order to make sure it doesn’t run out. “I am not working, but my mind does not stop working – my mind is constantly trying to figure out ways to survive on £5.39 a day.” [Asylum Support levels were only increased to £5.66 in June 2020]
Uthman fears that his life will be on hold for many more years as he waits for a decision on his claim. He worries that by the time he is allowed to work, it will be too late to start a professional career.
“I worry that I will get old and I am still waiting for my life to begin,” he says.
“I still want to study medicine one day. I know it sounds impossible, but if I can work and support myself, many things will be possible.”
Who we are
Lift the Ban is a coalition of more than 200 organisations from across the UK who have come together to call on the Government to give people seeking asylum the right to work.
If your organisation is interested in joining the campaign, contact email@example.com.
What are the current restrictions on people seeking asylum who want to work?
People seeking asylum in the UK are effectively prohibited from working. They can only apply to the Home Office for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for over twelve months and only for jobs that are on the Government’s Shortage Occupation List (this is an incredibly restrictive list that includes jobs such as classical ballet dancer and nuclear medicine practitioner).
How many people seeking asylum have been given permission to work under the current policy?
The Home Office does not collect this data. However, Coalition members work with people seeking asylum right across the country and we believe that such cases are extremely rare.
What changes are the Lift the Ban Coalition campaigning for?
The Lift the Ban coalition is calling for the right to work for people seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, after six months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List.
What are the arguments for change?
Would changing the rules act as a ‘pull factor’ for immigration?
No. There is no evidence that introducing the right to work would create a ‘pull factor’. In fact, a recent review of 29 academic papers found that there was no correlation between right to work and where people seeking asylum chose to seek protection. Instead, research shows that people are more like to flee to countries where they have family or friends, speak the same language and believe the country respects human rights.
How many people would benefit from the proposed changes?
According to the most recent statistics, around 31,516 people have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for longer than six months and would therefore be eligible to apply for permission to work under our proposals, as would their adult dependants. We also propose that people who have been granted the right to work but who then have their initial asylum claim refused are permitted to continue working until the appeals process has concluded.
Would everyone seeking asylum be expected to look for employment?
No. Granting the right to work must not mean an obligation to work for people seeking asylum. For many, looking for employment will not be a realistic option while they are also pursuing their asylum claim and work may not be appropriate for those who have suffered significant trauma from their experiences prior to coming to the UK.
Has UK policy always been this restrictive?
No. People seeking asylum who had been waiting for more than six months used to be allowed to work in the UK under both Conservative and Labour governments. Since 2002 policy has become increasingly restrictive with the introduction of a longer waiting period and the Shortage Occupation List.
How does the UK’s approach compare with other similar countries?
The UK is an outlier on this issue and has a policy that is considerably more restrictive than most nations within the EU and other wealthy countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada. Reducing the waiting period to six months and scrapping the Shortage Occupation List would bring us back into the mainstream.