UK Borders Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 11th October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 3:13 pm, 11th October 2007

My Lords, this amendment gives the Secretary of State power to make provisions to give permission to work to failed asylum seekers who are not able to return to their country of origin or who we cannot return for any other reason and to asylum seekers whose asylum claim has been outstanding for more than 12 months.

Let me address this in two parts. First, the Government believe that managed migration is a valuable source of skills and labour for the British economy and that it provides a legitimate channel for those who wish to work in the United Kingdom. However, our view is that it is crucial to maintain the distinction between managed migration and the asylum process. I know that many people seek to conflate them, but that is wrong and it does not help, particularly when we have to explain our policies at large within the United Kingdom. Entering the country for economic reasons is not the same as seeking asylum. We do not allow asylum seekers to work as that could encourage asylum applications from those with no fear of persecution and slow down the processing of applications from genuine refugees. It is important to note that the prohibition against working does not apply to asylum seekers who are recognised as refugees following a successful asylum claim. Secondly, since 5 February 2005 specific provision has been made in the immigration rules for asylum seekers who have been waiting 12 months and more for an initial decision. These applicants can apply for permission to take up employment provided the delay is not attributable to them.

Furthermore, under new arrangements for the handling of asylum claims, the Border and Immigration Agency is focused on concluding asylum claims within six months of the date of application. Dealing with applications more quickly than in the past will ensure that individuals are not on asylum support for any significant length of time. Only a few asylum seekers will qualify to work under the 12-month provision. As we have made clear, asylum seekers generally cannot work while their claims are being considered. Equally it would be inappropriate to allow failed asylum seekers to do so when they have no legal basis on which to remain in the UK.

Giving failed asylum seekers permission to work may also create an incentive for them to remain in the United Kingdom when we expect all successful applicants to return home as soon as practicable. It is our belief that this amendment could open our asylum system to further abuse. For that reason we continue to resist it.