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Illegal Migration Bill could worsen employee exploitation

Employment experts have warned that, without a right to work, migrants and asylum seekers will be exploited by rogue employers.

The Illegal Migration Bill proposes to make asylum claims inadmissible from those who travel to the UK via illegal routes. Under the law, these people would be detained and deported to Rwanda or a “safe third country".

Anyone who enters the UK illegally would also no longer be able to access modern slavery support.

More on right to work:

Government cracks down on illegal working

REC warns of issues with digital right to work checks

Recruiters losing talent through slow right to work checks

The government says the Illegal Migration Bill is designed to disincentivise people from crossing the Channel in small boats or in the back of lorries.

Matthew Creagh, employment rights officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the bill will leave asylum seekers in limbo.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “This nasty bill will leave nearly 200,000 asylum seekers in limbo indefinitely by trapping them in temporary accommodation, while they are not allowed to have their asylum claims heard and the vast majority are unable to officially work.

“Many asylum seekers could then fall prey to rogue employers who offer them jobs and then exploit them without fear of repercussion.”

Matt Jenkin, head of employment law at law firm Moorcrofts, said the scale of the rogue employer risk is hard to assess.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Undoubtedly, there are rogue employers out there who look to exploit vulnerable workers including those who don’t have the necessary permission to work lawfully in the UK.  

“However, with rogue employers, almost by definition looking to avoid detection, the extent of the problem is difficult to quantify.”

Jenkin added: “It will be interesting to see if the government recognises this as an issue and looks to stamp down on rogue employers with the same force that they are applying to illegal migration.”

Shazia Ejaz, director of campaigns at the professional body for UK recruitment businesses, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said the restrictions around asylum seekers working are unpopular and unhelpful.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “People seeking refugee status are banned from working while they wait months, and often years, for a decision on their asylum claim. This is despite polling last year which found that 81% of the public support the right to work for people seeking asylum in the UK.”

Allowing refugees to work could also ameliorate current labour shortages, Ejaz added.

She said: “Refugee Action research three years ago 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. From a business perspective these restrictive rules on them working make little sense given our acute labour shortages.”

Ejaz said the government should update the Shortage Occupations List, meaning migrants may use a skilled work visa to fill positions.

She said: “It will help many businesses deal with the labour shortages if the waiting time for asylum seekers to gain employment is reduced from 12 months to six months, and if the government updated the Shortage Occupations List every six months."

Creagh said the bill is unlawful and a gift to underground employers.

He added: “It’s time for the government to drop this nasty bill and give all asylum seekers the right to work to clamp down on rogue employers who are looking to profit from exploitation.”