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Asylum Seekers: Right to Work

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:13 am on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 11:13 am, 24th October 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and important point. When I was at the DWP, I was often to be found saying that work was good not only for people’s financial wellbeing, but for their emotional and physical wellbeing. We know that children will have better outcomes if their parents are in work.

I am oft to be heard talking about finding better routes into work for our refugee populations. I absolutely recognise that we have a great deal of work to do in that respect, because the employment outcomes for refugees are way below the general population, and way below where we would want them to be, notwithstanding the fact that we know that many people who come here, particularly under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, have specific challenges, which may be about long-term sickness or having large families or children with disabilities. We in this place and in this Chamber will all know that we have established many of our networks, relationships and friendships through our colleagues and through being at work. It is important that we find successful routes in.

I am referencing refugee communities in particular, but it is not lost on me that I receive many representations from right hon. and hon. Members, from the non-governmental organisation community and from individual asylum seekers whom I have had the opportunity and privilege to meet. They, too, would like the opportunity to be able to make a contribution and establish the same levels of networks and friendships that we all do through work.

I am listening carefully to the complex arguments about permitting asylum seekers to work, and I will of course consider further evidence that comes forward. As many Members will know, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden rehearsed, the Government’s current policy is to grant those seeking asylum in the UK permission to work where their claim, through no fault of their own, has not been decided after 12 months. Those allowed to work are limited to jobs on the shortage occupation list, which is based on expert advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. My right hon. Friend made her point absolutely perfectly by referring to ballet dancers.

The policy aims to protect the resident labour market and ensure that any employment meets our needs for skilled labour. Members will know that the shortage occupation list is currently under review. All asylum seekers can make a valuable contribution to their local communities by undertaking volunteering activities. My right hon. Friend referenced the event she hosted recently alongside Refugee Action. We heard about the experiences of a number of people who had been through the VPRS and the asylum system more generally. The point about language was made repeatedly.

I was most struck by a young lady who had come here on the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. She had been in the country for only six months and she used what I regarded as a terrible term, which I utterly reject, when she said, “When I came here, I was useless.” That really struck home because in no way was that young woman useless. Within six months she had got herself to such a level of English that she gave a word-perfect speech to a packed room at the Conservative party conference. That will not win many accolades from some Members here today, but conference is a tough gig. It is not always the easiest audience to speak to, but she did it beautifully. She said, “Six months ago I was useless, but now I am sitting here, working, and able to give a speech to you all.” It was hugely impressive. We also heard from a gentleman called Godfrey—the same gentleman my right hon. Friend referenced in her speech—who spoke at length about how volunteering had enabled him to feel that he was making an important contribution and given him back a sense of self-worth.

Jim Shannon spoke about how his community had wrapped its arms around Syrian families who had been resettled under VPRS. The work that we have done on community sponsorship, learnt from other countries such as Canada, has absolutely shown us that communities are willing to accept and welcome refugees into their midst. They are often best placed to help and are incredibly supportive, providing a network that enables refugees to make friends they can turn to for support in times of crisis. I might sound like a stuck record, but also provided are those all-important routes into work, which we all recognise are important.