This is clearly a debate that has been going on for some time. I know there are differences of opinion on the time period that should or should not operate for those who have claimed asylum in this country. The amendment would radically change existing permission to work arrangements for asylum seekers, allowing permission to work where an asylum claim is still outstanding after six months instead of 12 months, removing the caveat that any delay must not be of the asylum seeker’s own making and lifting all restrictions on the type of employment available. Those are the three elements that have been advanced by Opposition Members.
The amendment would enable persons to take any employment of their choice, rather than be restricted to those on the shortage occupation list published by the Home office. The arguments made were initially about compliance with some of our EU obligations and what other EU partners are doing—I will come on to that—and then, separately, what those who are working could contribute. Also, some evidence was adduced on whether permission to work is a pull factor. Let me deal with each in turn.
On the issue of the EU, our current position is consistent with our obligations under the EU reception conditions directive, which sets out the minimum benefits and entitlements afforded to asylum seekers while they await a decision on their claim. That is reflected in part 11B of the immigration rules, but we decided not to opt in to the recast reception conditions directive requiring member states to grant automatic access to the labour market for asylum seekers after nine months, regardless of a decision at first instance being taken, because we considered the Commission’s proposal could undermine our asylum system by encouraging unfounded claims from those seeking to use the asylum system as a cover for economic migration.
It is important to understand that asylum claims cover a range of different circumstances and scenarios. Someone might have claimed asylum at their point of arrival, or been smuggled into this country and then claimed asylum. Someone may already be in the UK, having come via a lawful route, and circumstances change in their home country, so they might claim asylum, or they simply seek to stay here and they use an asylum claim as a means of extending their stay in this country. Sadly, that is the reality of some of the asylum claims that we seek to respond to within the system.
The amendment poses a challenge. Should we be taking steps that are more consistent with our EU partners? I think that in the UK it is right that we should form our own decisions, based on our assessment of our asylum system and what we judge is in the best interests of this country, while supporting the processing and the proud tradition that we have had in this country of granting asylum in this country.
On the labour market issues, an argument was advanced in the context of the asylum support budget, but that argument does not take into account the potential to open up the resident labour market in a way that could blur the distinction between economic migration and asylum. I genuinely worry about measures that blur that distinction. People could apply for asylum but not engage with the process, with the deliberate intent of delaying the process so that they can then be granted the benefit of being able to work after the end of the six-month period. We are concerned that this may lead to an increase in asylum applications that would divert valuable resources away from ensuring that those genuinely in need of protection are recognised quickly, enabling them to integrate and begin rebuilding their lives. That is the approach that we have taken in seeking to ensure that the processing of asylum claims is much better than it was when this Government came in.
A great deal of attention has been given to the administration of asylum claims, to the extent that the Government made a public commitment to decide all straightforward asylum claims lodged before 2014 by 31 March 2015, and all straightforward claims lodged after 1 April 2014 within six months. We have met that commitment. We have changed the approach. We are actually dealing with straightforward asylum claims in a more efficient manner, so that they are not languishing and being extended, and about 85% of cases are straightforward.