Opinion: It's Time to Let Asylum Seekers Work in the UK

Social Issues

  • Author Syed Makki Shah
  • Published May 25, 2024
  • Word count 492

In the UK, we are facing significant shortages of workers across multiple sectors, from agriculture to construction, hospitality to care. Simultaneously, thousands of asylum seekers are trapped in a bureaucratic limbo, barred from working while their applications wind through a sluggish process. This paradox is not only economically illogical; it’s also inhumane. It’s time to rethink our asylum policy and allow asylum seekers to work—sooner rather than later.

The current system that prohibits asylum seekers from working for six months after applying not only creates unnecessary hardship for them, but it also exacerbates labor shortages across industries. Farmers struggle to find pickers, care homes lack support staff, and restaurants can’t fill their kitchens. By allowing asylum seekers to work, we could address these gaps, benefiting the economy and reducing the need for imported labor.

For asylum seekers themselves, the ability to work offers more than just a paycheck. It’s a pathway to dignity and mental well-being. Imagine fleeing persecution and violence in search of safety, only to be left in limbo, unable to contribute to society or support your family. This situation breeds frustration and despair, leading many to seek work in the shadows, where they are vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous landlords and employers.

By granting asylum seekers the right to work upon applying, we empower them to integrate into society, gain new skills, and contribute to the economy. It also reduces the burden on public benefits, allowing asylum seekers to support themselves and contribute to the tax system. This change would not only alleviate some of the government's financial pressures, but it would also reduce the risk of exploitation and modern slavery.

Furthermore, allowing asylum seekers to work could lead to greater engagement with the asylum process. When people have stable jobs, bank accounts, and fixed addresses, they are less likely to go underground or evade the system. This approach fosters compliance with the rules and ensures that people follow the correct procedures, benefiting both the asylum seekers and the Home Office.

Of course, there are concerns about allowing asylum seekers to work from day one. Some argue that it could encourage fraudulent claims, as people might use the asylum system as a backdoor to employment. However, with rigorous screening and monitoring, this risk can be managed. Additionally, the benefits of a more integrated, productive asylum-seeking community far outweigh the potential drawbacks.

The current system, which places asylum seekers in hotels and provides a monthly stipend, creates a cycle of dependency and vulnerability. By allowing asylum seekers to work, we can break this cycle, fostering a system where dignity and economic opportunity go hand in hand.

The UK has a proud tradition of welcoming those in need. It's time to honor that tradition by allowing asylum seekers to work and build a better life for themselves while contributing to our society. This isn't just a matter of economic sense; it's a matter of human decency.

I am a Human Rights Lawyer and have been practicing for over 22 years in the Human Rights Field.

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