From education to employment

Fast tracking asylum seekers into work to fill labour shortages requires a differentiated approach

Employee engagement

Asylum seekers from a “green list” of countries such as Afghanistan and Syria should get the right to work in the UK as soon they make their claim, a think-tank proposes today.

Rather than treating all asylum seekers the same from the perspective of their right to work in the UK, the Social Market Foundation said that the asylum claimants’ right to work before their claim is determined should be targeted at those most likely to be determined to be refugees. That is those claimants from countries with a high acceptance rate for asylum claims in the UK – ‘green list’ countries – should be fast-tracked and supported into the labour market.

“For asylum claimants from green list countries we would see a strong case for them to be allowed to work – subject of course to confirmed identity and the usual security checks – as swiftly as practicable, with no restriction on the type of jobs they can do”, said Jonathan Thomas, SMF Senior Fellow and author of the report.

But the SMF paper also cautions that, regardless of asylum seekers’ right to work, employers need the confidence and transparency to be willing to take the risk in actually hiring them before their claim has been determined, and the ‘green’ list label could also help to provide that, the SMF said.

Set against a more permissive approach to right to work for those from ‘green list’ countries should be a more restricted and carefully controlled right to work for asylum claimants from ‘orange list’ countries– those countries with much lower recognition rates.

Jonathan Thomas, SMF Senior Fellow said:

“This is the fairest way to balance workforce needs, the interests of asylum claimants and public faith in the asylum process not being exploited to allow working by those who are not determined to be refugees, which is key to aligning the right to work policy with public support.”

The SMF paper comes at a time when there are labour and skills shortages in sectors across the UK economy. At the same time, over 66,000 asylum seekers are already potentially eligible to apply for permission to work in the UK having been awaiting a decision on their claim for over a year. But the SMF paper also cautions against asylum seekers’ right to work being seen as a magic bullet to fill labour shortages without their receiving significant support into work.

The SMF paper also notes that, while in practice many asylum seekers end up at risk of abuse and exploitation from working unlawfully in the UK, these risks remain considerable even where asylum seekers are allowed to lawfully work. This is another reason why the right to work should be targeted at those most likely to succeed in their asylum claim and be afforded the right to lawfully remain and work in the UK at that point. But there is also a strong case for an oversight system of those employers hiring asylum seekers, as none currently exists in the UK.

Jonathan Thomas, SMF Senior Fellow, said:

“For over twenty years the ongoing debate on asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK has created division and impasse. To achieve better outcomes for our society, economy and asylum seekers, while addressing government and public concerns, is not easy. But it is possible. There is a way around the impasse, but it requires a new and differentiated approach which takes account of the practical needs and concerns not only of asylum claimants, but also of employers and of the British public.”

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