New evidence shows extent of skills being wasted by not allowing asylum seekers to work - Refugee Council
July 14, 2009

New evidence shows extent of skills being wasted by not allowing asylum seekers to work

New research by the Refugee Council and the Zimbabwe Association today reveals the range of skills the UK is losing by denying the vast majority of asylum seekers entitlement to work.

The study, focusing on the Zimbabwean community, uncovers the range of professions and training among Zimbabweans who are currently in the UK, but who are prevented from working by the UK Government.

Since 2002, almost all asylum seekers in the UK have been prevented from working. As a result, those who have waited many years for a decision on their claim, or who have been turned down but are unable to go back because their country remains unsafe, have been forced to rely on minimal state support or left destitute.

The study focuses on the Zimbabwean community, many of whom have been in the UK for several years, either waiting for a decision, or unable to return due to fears for their safety. But many findings of the research also apply to people from other nationalities, who want to contribute their skills and experiences to the UK.

The survey of 292 Zimbabweans showed:

  • 64% are educated to GCSE level and beyond
  • Only THREE were unemployed at home
  • 45 are qualified teachers or lecturers (15% – the highest proportion)
  • Other occupations varied widely – from town planners, surveyors and transport managers to engineers, mechanics and IT specialists
  • 63% said they would like to return to Zimbabwe when it is safe to do so

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“This study shows that denying those who want to work the opportunity to do so is an appalling waste of skills, and indeed of money.

“The people who responded to our survey are a snapshot of a bigger picture. Most people who claim asylum in Britain do not expect to live off the state while they wait for a decision; if they are able, they want to work and start paying their way straight away. It is daft that we do not let them.

“Asylum seekers come to the UK for safety, to be free from torture and persecution. They do not expect our generosity to extend further than a safe place to live. Yet we force them to survive on little or nothing, with more and more of them left destitute as they are unable to return home. In a recession, it does not make sense to prevent people who are willing and able to work from doing so.”

Clemence, who was unable to work for eight years despite being qualified as a nurse, said:

“I would feel wasted and undignified having to scrounge for provisions when I was, able physically and intellectually to sustain myself and my family. Being denied the right to work when seeking asylum is tantamount to prolonging the persecution the victim is escaping from.

“Sometimes I felt punished for seeking asylum by being denied the right to work.”