Government announces withdrawal of asylum seekers' right to work

23 Jul 2002

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes has announced the Government is to withdraw the concession that allows asylum seekers to work after they have been waiting six months or more for a decision on their case.

This change of policy, which will come into effect from 23 July this year, will mean that asylum seekers will no longer be able to work or undertake vocational training until they are given a positive decision on their asylum case, regardless of how long they wait for a decision.

The Government justifies its new policy on the basis that most decisions are made in under six months. Whilst this is true of initial decisions, many of these go to appeal and may be overturned (there were 3,165 successful asylum appeals in the the first quarter of this year). This can be a lengthy process, during which asylum seekers are forced to rely on support from the National Asylum Support Service and unable to put their skills and experience to good use.

This policy has been pushed through in haste and without consultation; the Refugee Council has only just received received news of it. In response, the Refugee Council has written a letter to the Beverley Hughes expressing its serious concerns and outlining the reasons why previous governments have not abandoned the concession - although almost every government since it was introduced in 1986 has considered doing so:

  • There is no evidence that giving asylum seekers who are awaiting decision permission to work encourages more asylum applications.

  • There is clearly public support for the idea that where possible asylum seekers should work to pay their way.

  • There will be significant extra costs in supporting asylum seekers who are no longer allowed to work.

  • The concession is only meaningful if the government is unable to meet its targets for decision times; if the targets are met there is no need to remove the concession.

  • Changing the policy will have a major impact on the future integration of those who will subsequently be allowed to stay and who have had to wait more than six months for an initial decision; it will particularly affect those with specialist occupations, such as health professionals, who need to keep their skills up to date.

Read the Refugee Council's response to the announcement.