Home Office bids to restrict jobs for asylum seekers

Limit sought so some asylum seekers can apply for work only in industries with staff shortages

Home Office ministers are trying to thwart the impact of a supreme court ruling lifting a work ban on 45,000 asylum seekers by severely restricting the jobs they can apply for.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, wants to bar the asylum seekers from more than 28.5m jobs and restrict them to industries in which there are official staff shortages.

Home Office officials are investigating the possibility of telling asylum seekers they can apply only for vacancies among 400,000 skilled jobs in shortage occupations – a tiny fraction of the jobs in the UK economy. Asylum seekers would have to be qualified maths teachers, chemical engineers, high-integrity pipe welders or even experienced orchestral musicians or ballet dancers to have any hope of being allowed to work. The conditions mirror the restrictions of the points-based immigration system which bans unskilled workers from outside of Europe from working in Britain.

This week’s supreme court ruling said failed asylum seekers who made a second fresh claim for refugee status should be allowed to work if they had waited more than 12 months for a new Home Office decision.

The ruling is in line with an EU directive that lays down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers across Europe to ensure a dignified standard of living. The supreme court rejected the home secretary’s argument that this group of asylum seekers should lose this protection because their initial application had been rejected.

Refugee welfare groups have been fighting for more than 10 years to lift the ban on asylum seekers being allowed to work in Britain while their applications are decided. This is the first time the courts have backed the principle.

Immigration barristers say the ruling will mean that tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers whose fresh applications are grinding their way through the system will be entitled to basic rights, including the right to work. The court said any problem with undeserving cases should be dealt with by resolving them promptly rather than by denying those involved their fundamental rights.

The Home Office says that up to 45,000 failed asylum seekers are likely to be affected by the ruling. Many of them are among the 450,000 “legacy cases”, some dating back more than 10 years, which the Home Office is working through in a backlog exercise.

Green confirmed his intention to severely restrict the jobs open to asylum seekers who have waited more than a year for a decision.

He said: “I believe it is important to maintain a distinction between economic migration and asylum – giving failed asylum seekers access to the labour market undermines this principle.”

He claimed the ruling would have only a short-term effect as “the long delays in the asylum system will be resolved by the summer of next year when all the older asylum cases are concluded”.

Jonathan Ellis, director of policy and development at the Refugee Council, said the Home Office’s response to the ruling was “disappointing”.

“The supreme court ruled that this group of asylum seekers has the right to work under EU law – the government should not then limit this right down to a small number of asylum seekers who meet the requirements for national shortage occupations.

“The shortage occupation list is not designed for asylum seekers but rather economic migrants needing sponsorship to come to the UK. Asylum seekers who have waited so long for a decision should be allowed to work for local employers whenever their skills are needed.”

Alan Travis, home affairs editor

29 July 2010