Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Let Them Work

The Refugee Council, working in partnership with several other charities, trade unions, and refugee groups, has been running a campaign called Let Them Work. The purpose of this campaign is to get the British government to allow asylum seekers in the UK to work. As both a trade unionist and an advocate for greater rights for the world's most vulnerable people, I support this campaign wholeheartedly. This issue is but one reason amongst many why our asylum system is an inhumane disgrace, but it is a significant reason, as the right to work is one of the most fundamental rights that the trade union movement has fought for around the world.

That is why I would like to draw attention to the campaign here, and to urge all those reading this to pledge their support for it;

Let Them Work

Let Them Work banner
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while they wait for a decision on their claim. Nor are they allowed to work if they are not able to return home. The Refugee Council believes this is wrong.
If asylum seekers were able to work it would:

  • Combat destitution
  • Benefit the economy
  • Benefit communities
  • Help integration
  • Re-skill refugees to offer them a better future

Together with the TUC, STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and a host of other organisations, the Refugee Council is calling on the government to let asylum seekers work. YOU CAN HELP.
Let Them Work - take action now Take action now:
Sign the campaign pledge
Write to your MP
Download campaign resources
Sign up as an organisation
Find local campaign groups

Let Them Work - background

Asylum seekers come to the UK in search of protection, not a job. But while they are here they want to work, they want to contribute.Let Them Work logo
Employment is one of the best ways for a person who has suffered a traumatic upheaval to start the process of rebuilding their life. A paid job brings a sense of self respect and dignity; it is a way of meeting people and making friends; and it gives a person some control over their life.
Employment also benefits wider society. It means people are able to support themselves, instead of needing to be supported by the taxpayer. It also contributes to cohesive and functional communities.
Just.Fair badgeThe majority of asylum seekers have skills and a high level of education. Many are qualified nurses, teachers and academics. Others have been employed as journalists and civil servants in their home countries. They are working people – and many of them are trade unionists, who got into trouble with the authorities because they stood up for worker’s rights.
They are forced to survive on hand outs that leave them in poverty, or they are denied support altogether and end up destitute.
It is inhumane to treat people in this way, and it makes no economic sense.

Why asylum seekers should be allowed to work - FAQs

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is person who has left their country of origin, has applied for recognition as a refugee in another country, and is awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. It is a universal right to protection from persecution that we all enjoy.

What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?

A refugee is someone who, following their claim for asylum in the UK, has been recognised as needing protection under Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Refugees have permission to work and full rights to employment and training.

How many asylum seekers are there in the UK?

In 2007, the number of applications for asylum in the UK was 27,905. This is much lower than in 2000 but there are people who are still waiting for a decision on their asylum claim after several years. There are also many people who have had their claims refused but have been unable to return because it is still unsafe.

Why aren’t asylum seekers allowed to work?

The Government changed its mind in 2002. Before this date, asylum seekers could apply for permission to work after six months. The Government argued that asylum needs to be kept separate from economic migration. They also believe that allowing asylum seekers to work will make the UK a more attractive place to claim asylum.

Does this apply to all asylum seekers?

A majority of asylum seekers are prevented from working. A few may have permission to work from before 2002 as their cases are still undecided. Since February 2005, a European Directive has allowed asylum seekers to apply for work permission if they are still waiting for an initial decision from the Home Office after 12 months. However, this only applies to a small number of asylum seekers and is no guarantee of getting permission to work.

Why do asylum seekers come to the UK?

The main reason is for protection. Asylum seekers have faced torture, imprisonment, rape and other forms of violence. Some will have been targeted by the authorities because of their trade union work. Although asylum seekers do not come to the UK for work, a majority would much prefer to work and not live on benefits. A majority of asylum seekers were working or studying before being forced to leave their countries.

How do asylum seekers manage to live?

The Government provides limited support to asylum seekers who are destitute. Most people arrive in the UK with very little as a result of having to flee their country. Government asylum support is only 70% of income support; accommodation is often in the most economically disadvantaged areas of towns and cities. For those whose asylum claims are finally refused, there is nothing other than voucher support equivalent to £35 per week. Most are asked to agree to return voluntary in order to qualify for this amount, regardless of whether it is safe to do so.

Are asylum seekers allowed to study or do training?

Asylum seekers can study as home students in further education, including learning English, if they are still claiming asylum after six months. But there are limits if the course requires permission to work. Most asylum seekers wanting to study at university are unable to do so because they have to pay international student fees.