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Let asylum seekers work after 3 months instead of being supported by taxpayers

January 10, 2019 12:14 PM

Liberal Democrats believe strongly that asylum seekers should be allowed to work while waiting for a decision on their application. It's good for the UK economy and it gives asylum seekers self respect and allows them to provide for their families. It would avoid destitution, isolation and exploitation.

It was the then Labour Government that passed the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, an act amending the support arrangements for asylum seekers and creating provisions for detention and removal. The then Home Secretary David Blunkett said the bill was designed to change the message that "if you get here and you claim asylum, then we'll support you".

Prior to 2002 asylum seekers could apply for the right to work if they had been waiting more than six months for their claims to be processed, but Labour changed that. The most controversial aspect of their act was the decision to remove support for destitute asylum seekers, who subsequently had to prove that they had applied for asylum, were destitute and that the application for asylum had been made "as soon as reasonably practicable" upon arrival in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Home Secretary could withhold support from applicants who could not provide an account of how they had arrived in the United Kingdom, how they had been living since their arrival, or to anyone who did not co-operate with the authorities. In 2002 the Refugee Council said that this would "potentially affect the lives and wellbeing of thousands of asylum applicants in the UK forcing them into extreme poverty and making it more difficult to pursue their asylum application". Refugees, the council feared, would have to choose between persecution or destitution.

And in 2004 the court of appeal found that the policy breached article 3 of the European convention on human rights and in October 2004 the Home Secretary abandoned the policy.
So Labour's record on this issue is far from humane or fair and actually breached the convention that they now seek to protect in a motion put before Newcastle City Council.
I'm glad that they have now seen the light, but my main concern is the 6 month delay before they want asylum seekers to be able to work. Why so long, when the UK is crying out for nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers and many other skills?

Legislation seeking to change the law so asylum seekers can work while waiting for their cases to be processed has been put forward by Liberal Democrats MP Christine Jardine in a private members' bill. Her bill, if passed, would allow asylum seekers the right to work after three months in the UK and we've asked the Council to call on the Government and Labour MPs to make sure this bill is passed - something they've refused to do.

Of course we agree that the Tory Government's attitude to asylum seekers is a disgrace and we condemn the comments of the Home Secretary Sajid Javid who questioned whether the 239 people who have made the Channel crossing since November are genuine asylum seekers, and said the government "will do everything we can" to stop them settling in the UK.

Currently people who risk everything to come to the UK seeking sanctuary, with valuable skills and experience to offer, are being stripped of their dignity and condemned to an existence on the edge of our society. Instead, we need to recognise the contribution they could make and lift the ban which prevents most genuine asylum seekers from working, allowing them to seek employment after three months of claiming sanctuary. It would help people learn English and contribute to society, while saving the taxpayer millions in support and housing payments.

The UK's restrictions on asylum seekers working in the UK are among the toughest in the western world. In Greece, Canada and Sweden, asylum seekers can look for work immediately, while in the US and the rest of the EU, employment is only restricted for between one and nine months of an asylum claim being lodged. But in the UK asylum seekers may only apply for permission to work if they have been waiting more than 12 months for an initial response from the Home Office, and then only in jobs on a list of specialised occupations where there is a labour shortage.

We support the Lift the Ban Coalition, but we want to go further and believe a 3 month wait is long enough. Cynically, Labour Councillors In Newcastle refused to support our amendment to make this our City's policy.