Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

37.  Memorandum submitted by Tandem Communications and Research


  1.1  Many people arriving in the UK can only volunteer if they have permission to do paid or unpaid work. This bars them from volunteering, because for immigration purposes, volunteering is currently seen as unpaid work.

  1.2  However, volunteering is not unpaid work. It is a gift relationship, with no intention on either side of creating a contract of employment or service.

  1.3  The Home Office has already made a distinction between volunteering and unpaid work in the case of asylum seekers, who can volunteer but who cannot undertake paid or unpaid work.

  1.4  We are calling for this barrier to volunteering to be removed for all people entering the UK, whatever their visa status. This is in line with the new Compact Volunteering Code of Good Practice in which the British government makes clear its commitment to removing all barriers to volunteering and valuing the voluntary contribution of all, regardless of origin.


  2.1  Many people arriving in the UK can only volunteer if they have permission to work. This is because the visa grants "permission to do paid or unpaid work", and volunteering is seen to be part of unpaid work for immigration purposes. Some overseas students are unable to work, others are limited to 20 hours in term time.

  2.2  The only—and welcome—exception to this rule is in the case of asylum seekers, who are not allowed to do paid or unpaid work, but who can volunteer.

  2.3  Voluntary sector agencies report instances of confusion, differing advice from IND, and anxiety on the part of would-be volunteers whose volunteering is then curtailed.


  3.1  The freedom to volunteer is identified in the new Compact Volunteering Code of Good Practice as a basic right: "Volunteering should be open to all, no matter what their background, race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation or disability". Through the Compact, the British government is committed to removing all barriers to volunteering. The Code applies to central Government departments, including Government Offices for the regions, and to the range of organisations in the public, voluntary and community sector.

  3.2  There is a risk that volunteering organisations will start to screen all prospective volunteers for their immigration status: this would alienate and antagonise both British and overseas nationals.

  3.3  People come with good will and skills to share. Volunteering breaks down barriers and promotes tolerance, inclusion and community cohesion.

  3.4  People who want to perform acts for the community as part of their faith are barred from practicing this part of their religion unless they have a work permit.

  3.5  Visitors—ordinary people, religious leaders, celebrities and others—who come on visas that do not permit work are unable to volunteer their services in even the most commonplace of settings (a village fete, a hospital, a religious event, a fundraising meal, an environmental activity, a youth initiative, helping at a sports event, a cultural activity).

  3.6  This bar on volunteering is impossible to police.


  4.1  The Home Office has effectively distinguished between volunteering and unpaid work. The IND website states the following:

  4.2  "The following guidance may be of help when organisations consider offers of voluntary activity from asylum seekers. Care should be taken to ensure that the activity being undertaken by an asylum seeker is genuinely voluntary and does not amount to employment (see the Note below). Reimbursement can however be made for meal, travel or other costs actually incurred, but not as a flat-rate allowance."

  4.3  IND Note on Employment: "There is a difference between volunteering and employment, which in general remains forbidden to asylum seekers even where the employment is unpaid. An example of unpaid employment would be an arrangement in which a person makes an arrangement to help out in a business, perhaps on behalf of a relative, in return for some non-monetary benefit. But where the work is unpaid and is carried out on behalf of a charity, voluntary organisation or body that raises funds for either, or in the public sector then it will be accepted for immigration law purposes as volunteering."


  5.1  All entrants to the United Kingdom, including visa nationals or others requiring entry clearance should be both encouraged and allowed to volunteer.


  6.1  Tandem Communications and Research is a small limited company with extensive experience of working on volunteering issues in connection with refugees, asylum seekers and, increasingly, other newcomers and immigrants. Tandem is a member of Volunteering England.

  6.2  Tandem would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Home Affairs Select Committee increasing the quality and quantity of volunteering by visitors to the United Kingdom. If you have any questions about this repsonse or would like further information about Tandem, please contact Ruth Wilson, Director of "GreetingLine".

Ruth Wilson


1 December 2005

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