I welcome the opportunity to speak to amendment 19 and new clause 23. I thank Catherine West, who tabled the amendment, and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, who moved it. I welcome their ongoing contribution to the debate about the right of asylum seekers to work.
The amendment would require provision to be made under clause 4 to enable asylum seekers who are EEA nationals, and their adult dependents, to apply to the Home Office for the right to take up employment if a decision on their asylum claim has not been made within six months of the date on which it was recorded.
As hon. Members may know, the European economic area is not the same as the European Union. It is slightly wider and includes Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland, which are not members of the EU. That distinction is very important. Under our current immigration rules, asylum claims from EU nationals are treated as inadmissible—in other words, they will not be substantively considered unless there are very exceptional circumstances. Claims from EEA nationals whose home countries are not part of the EU are not inadmissible.
Our rules on the inadmissibility of asylum claims from EU nationals derive from the Spanish protocol, and allow EU member states to treat an asylum claim by a citizen of another EU country as automatically inadmissible unless exceptional circumstances apply. Claims from EEA nationals whose home countries are not part of the EU are considered by the UK, but on the basis that they are likely to be clearly unfounded. All EEA nationals, including those whose home countries are not in the EU, are from safe countries and are highly unlikely to suffer a well-founded fear of persecution or serious harm there.
For those reasons, and as we do not foresee a change in those circumstances when we leave the EU, we intend to continue our policy on inadmissibility of asylum claims from EU nationals. Amendment 19—if it implies that asylum claims from EEA nationals would be well founded—would put us in direct opposition to our current and proposed approach to such claims. It would also put us out of step with the asylum standards of the European Union. Even if there were exceptional circumstances, in which we substantively considered an asylum claim from an EEA national and took more than six months to determine it, treating asylum seekers from the EEA differently from those from the rest of the world on the grounds of their nationality is not only illogical but discriminatory.
From my discussions with hon. Members, I know that they are concerned more generally about the scope of our policy on asylum seekers’ right to work. I understand their concerns and would like to take this opportunity to set out the Government’s position. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston outlined, our policy currently allows asylum seekers to work in the UK only if their claim has been outstanding for at least 12 months through no fault of their own. Those permitted to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list, which is published by the Home Office and, as I indicated in response to the previous amendment, is currently under review by the Migration Advisory Committee. This policy is designed to protect the resident labour market by prioritising access to employment for British citizens and people who are lawfully resident here, including those granted refugees status, who are given full access to the labour market.
It is important to distinguish between asylum seekers who need protection and those who seek to come here to work. Our wider policy could be fundamentally undermined if individuals bypass the rules on who can work in the UK by making an unfounded asylum claim. Currently, about 50% of asylum seekers are ultimately found not to be in need of international protection.