Asylum seekers need greater rights to work, says REC

Those seeking asylum should be given the right to work, the The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) has urged, signing up to the Lift the Ban coalition

The coalition, led by Refugee Action and Asylum Matters, consists of more than 170 charities, faith groups, businesses and unions, including the Trades Union Congress, Church of England, Ben & Jerry’s and the Confederation of British Industry.

People seeking asylum in the UK currently are effectively prohibited from working. They can only apply to the Home Office for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for more than 12 months, and can only apply for jobs that are on the government’s restricted Shortage Occupation List.

The UK is said to have one of the most restrictive policies on rights to work for asylum seekers, with no other European country enforcing the minimum 12-month waiting period. People seeking refugee status can wait years for a decision on their asylum claim while living on just £5.39 per day, leaving many struggling according to the coalition.

The REC’s move follows recent research from Refugee Action which showed that 71% of the public think that the ban on asylum seekers working is unfair.

Paul Hook, head of campaigns for Refugee Action, said that people seeking asylum are often highly skilled. “We’re thrilled that the REC is backing Lift the Ban. It’s so important that employers recognise the skills and experience that people seeking asylum have to offer," he told HR magazine.

"Lift The Ban’s recent report found that 74% of people seeking asylum had a secondary-level education or higher and more than a third held an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree. This is comparable to the UK graduate population. Let’s not waste their skills. We know of teachers, engineers and doctors waiting on their asylum decisions for months or even years who can’t work.”

HR practitioners can play a key role here, Hook added: "HR professionals want the best people with the right skills and experience to join their organisations and people seeking asylum have so much to offer. We’d encourage HR professionals to visit the Lift the Ban website to find out more about the campaign, and welcome more organisations to join us and help us to change this outdated policy.”

He added that lifting these restrictions is the right thing to do from both an ethical and economic perspective. “People seeking asylum want to work. Just like us they want to provide for their families and play a role in their local communities. If we lift the ban £42.4 million could be contributed back into the economy through tax and National Insurance payments and savings on financial support,” he said.

Chris Russell, policy advisor at the REC, added: “It’s a really important campaign to back. These are people who have been through a lot of trauma, and we really believe that helping asylum seekers into work can help to transform their lives. Research from Refugee Action has shown that 96% of asylum seekers want to work, but there are so many barriers stopping them from doing so. When you look at other countries’ laws in this area it’s clear that the UK is lagging behind.

“The other part of this is that this is currently at a point where skills shortages are a huge concern, with employers particularly worried about what will happen after Brexit. From a business perspective these restrictive rules make even less sense, and it’s clear that more organisations should sign the coalition.”