Lift the Ban: busting some myths around asylum seekers and work

Alongside more than 150 organisations across the UK, Help Refugees is calling on the Government to give people seeking asylum in the UK the right to work. At the moment, asylum seekers are banned from working while they await a decision on their application and have to survive on a little over £5 per day.

There are some common misconceptions about asylum seekers and work that appear in the media. These are often used to argue that people seeking asylum should not be allowed to work, but they do not stand up to scrutiny.


Allowing people seeking asylum to work does not create a “pull-factor”

A common argument for restricting work rights for people seeking asylum is that allowing people to work would create a “pull-factor” – an extra incentive to come to this country. But research by the University of Warwick shows this is simply not the case .

Studies, including one commissioned by the Home Office, have shown that access to work has little, if any, affect on where people seek asylum. The Lift the Ban report shows there is not one piece of credible, published evidence of a long-term link between labour market access and asylum destination.

Often, people have little choice in where they seek asylum. In cases where people have some degree of choice, it is primarily based on language, colonial links between their home country and the host country, having family or friends in the host country, or a belief that the host country is safe, tolerant and democratic.

Furthermore, the report shows that people seeking asylum often do not have knowledge of the host country’s policies on working rights prior to their arrival. And research has shown that restricting the right to work has no effect on the number of asylum applications a country receives.

Allowing people seeking asylum to work does not encourage “economic migrants”

Some go further and argue that such a policy would lead to more “economic migrants” applying for asylum in order to work. This, too, is not borne out by the evidence. It also makes little sense.

Our coalition is calling for asylum seekers who had been waiting for a decision on their application for over six months to be allowed to work. Researchers have widely discredited that this would encourage people to come to the country solely for economic reasons.

For people who arrive in the UK without a visa and intend to work, research suggests it is easier for them to remain hidden and work illegally. It is unlikely they would put themselves through the asylum process and bring themselves to the attention of the authorities, putting themselves at risk of deportation, in the hope that their application will be delayed and they won’t be able to work for at least six months.

The benefits of giving asylum seekers the right to work

If the UK were to adopt a six-month waiting period, it would go from being an outlier to joining the international mainstream.

Spain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and many more countries across Europe have already shown that giving asylum seekers the right to work after six months or less can bring benefits to both the local community and people seeking asylum.

Our coalition of charities, think tanks and faith groups argue that giving people seeking asylum the right to work would:

• Strengthen people’s chances of being able to integrate into and contribute to their new communities.
• Allow people seeking asylum to live in dignity and to provide for themselves and their families.
• Give people the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential.
• Improve the mental health of people in the asylum system.
• Help to challenge forced labour, exploitation, and modern slavery.

It’s time for a change. Join us in urging the Government to move rapidly to grant the right to work for people seeking asylum by reading the full report and signing our petition demanding the government #LiftTheBan.

This article was written for Help Refugees by James Burgess.