New Clause 46 - Permission to work for people seeking asylum

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 4 November 2021.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:30, 4 November 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I will try to be brief in the interests of time. I thank the Lift the Ban campaign for its sterling work on why this new clause is so necessary and why it would be so beneficial. Current immigration rules dictate that asylum seekers can apply for permission to work only if they have been waiting for a decision for over 12 months and only for jobs that are on the Government’s highly restrictive shortage occupation list, which includes professions such as classical ballet dancer and geophysicist. That has not always been the case. Until 2002, people were able to apply for permission to work if they had been waiting for a decision for more than six months. Only in 2010 was the right to work restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list.

Today, 76% of people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim have been waiting for more than six months, according to the Government’s latest immigration statistics. During the long waits for claims to be processed, people seeking asylum are unable safely to protect themselves and provide for their families. They are forced to depend on the pitifully low asylum support payments of £5.66 a day, and people must often choose between essential items of food, medicine and cleaning products while being prohibited from using their skills and experience.

Work provides a route out of poverty, and there would be a big economic benefit from lifting the ban. The Lift the Ban coalition has calculated that, if 50% of those currently waiting more than six months for a decision on their claim found work, the net economic benefit from increased tax and national insurance contributions and from lower asylum support payments would be £178 million per year. Lifting the ban also has widespread business backing. In 2019, the Lift the Ban coalition polled 1,000 businesses for their views on whether people seeking asylum should have the right to work, and 67% of the businesses polled agreed.

In addition, lifting the ban would bring the UK into line with policy in all other comparable countries. Lifting the ban also makes sense in the covid-19 pandemic or post-pandemic context in which we find ourselves. The skills and desire to work possessed by many stuck in the asylum system could have been invaluable during the recent covid-19 crisis. Very importantly, lifting the ban would support integration. It stands to reason that early access to employment increases the chances of smooth economic and social integration by allowing people to improve their English, acquire new skills, and make new friends and social contacts in the wider community. Crucially, it enables them to be self-sufficient. The policy is also popular with the public. According to Lift the Ban coalition’s research conducted in 2018, 71% of the public support lifting the ban.