Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Lift the Ban Coalition (IB03)

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019-21


1. The Lift the Ban coalition is made up of 240 non-profit organisations, think tanks, businesses, local authorities and faith groups. Its members are calling on the Government to give people seeking asylum and their adult dependants the right to work:

a. unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List; and

b. after they have waited six months for a decision on their initial asylum claim or further submission.

Current situation and opportunity for change

2. Currently, asylum seekers may apply for permission to work under Paragraph 360, Part 11B of the Immigration Rules. An individual may only apply for permission if a final decision on their application has not been made within 12 months. If granted, they can only take up employment if the job is listed in the Shortage Occupation List (Immigration Rules Appendix K). This is a highly restrictive list, including such professions as ‘classical ballet dancer’ and ‘geophysicist’.

3. Paragraph 360 of the Immigration Rules falls within the first of the three categories of law provided for in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019-21 (Schedule 1, Part 1) as it is domestic legislation which derives from EU law. The rules as they currently stand were introduced to comply with Article 11 of the European Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003, which lays down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. The UK is bound to follow this directive until its withdrawal from the EU. The 2003 Directive was recast in the Directive 2013/EE/EU of 26 June 2013, laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast) and reducing the maximum period before an asylum applicant is entitled to work from 12 months to 9 months. The 2013 directive does not have any effect in UK law as the UK has not opted into this directive.

4. In December 2018, the then Home Secretary announced that the Government would be reviewing the policy. This review is still ongoing, over 18 months later.

5. The Government’s most recent Immigration White Paper, published on December 20th 2018, recognised "the importance of work when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing, building a sense of wider contribution to our society, and for community integration" and noted that "the Government has committed to listening carefully to the complex arguments around permitting asylum seekers to work." The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019-21 provides an important opportunity for the Government to enshrine the proposed changes within primary legislation.

Why is change needed?

6. In its 2018 report, the Lift the Ban coalition highlighted the advantages that a change in policy would bring, not only to people seeking asylum but also to the communities they live in. Using data from the end of 2017, the report highlighted that the right to work could achieve an economic gain of £42.4 million for the UK Government, because of additional tax revenues and savings from asylum support costs. Today, that figure would likely be more than double, as there are currently more than twice the number of people waiting more than six months for a decision on their asylum claim [1] . Advantages include:

a. Strengthening people’s chances of being able to integrate in the UK

In the foreword to the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper, published in March 2018, Sajid Javid set out the Government’s ambition "to build strong integrated communities where people – whatever their background – live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities." This included increasing the integration support given to people recognised as refugees after arrival in the UK. Indeed, Government’s Indicators of Integration Framework, published in Summer 2019, accepts that "employment provides a mechanism for income generation and economic independence and possibly advancement; as such, it is a key factor supporting integration." Yet the current policy excluding people seeking asylum from working undermines attempts to enable them to effectively integrate once they are granted refugee status.

Employment is recognised as one of the most important factors in securing integration. In addition to the direct benefits that work brings, employment may have indirect integration benefits, for instance learning English. Early labour market integration has been consistently shown to be key for successful integration; evidence suggests that when people seeking asylum are subject to extended periods during which their access to the labour market is restricted, their economic integration is slowed. [2]

b. Allowing people seeking asylum to live in dignity and to provide for themselves and their families

An intentional policy of restricting people’s access to the labour market for long periods is certain to have a harmful impact on their sense of pride and dignity. Research supports the idea that work contributes to people’s well-being: one analysis carried out by the Office for National Statistics showed that people whose household income consists of a high proportion of cash benefits, regardless of the level of that income, are likely to experience lower life satisfaction, lower happiness, and higher anxiety. [3]

There is also a considerable detrimental impact on those seeking asylum, as well as their children and families, of having to live below the poverty line for extended periods. Currently, almost half of those waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim have been waiting over six months. While they wait, people are forced to survive on just £5.39 per day. Over half of the people that the Lift the Ban coalition surveyed for its report told us that they had used a food bank at some point in the past year.

c. Giving people the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential

As a result of current policy, the Government is creating a situation whereby people are forced to live in limbo for long periods of time and cannot put their talents to use. Their many and varied skills are being wasted, at best; at worst, they are being lost. The current health pandemic has put into sharper focus than ever the need for people to be able to use their skills and work.

Of the people surveyed by the Lift the Ban campaign in 2018, 94% said that they would like to work if given permission to do so. Only three people said that they would rather not work; one of them told us that they would first like to study. People in the asylum system are distressed by being unable to put their skills to use whilst they are waiting for a decision on their claim. Asked about their qualifications, 74% of the people we surveyed told us that they had secondary-level education or higher. Over a third (37%) of those surveyed held an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree, which falls just short of the percentage of the total UK population classed as graduates (42%). Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents were working before they came to the UK, despite many of their countries of origin having been at war for years or having some of the world’s lowest employment rates.

d. Improving the mental health of people in the asylum system

There is considerable evidence to suggest a strong and positive link between employment and mental health. Data from the NHS shows that employed adults are less likely to have a common mental health problem than those who are unemployed. [4] Research also suggests a link between unemployment and depression, with the latter worsening when people lack the support networks provided by friends and families (as is the case for many in the asylum system). [5]

Research into mental health outcomes in people seeking asylum has shown that unemployed people in the asylum system were more than twice as likely to have major depressive disorder. A 2013 Australian study with 29 people seeking asylum, who had no right to work, found that participants most commonly identified not having the right to work as the biggest challenge they face in their new communities. [6]

Giving people the right to work whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, something that can take months or even years, would allow them to move on with their lives, fill their time, and give them a sense of progression and development. Ultimately, it would contribute significantly to alleviating some of the mental distress experienced by those in the asylum system.

e. Help to challenge forced labour, exploitation, and modern slavery

Evidence suggests that a change in policy which allows people seeking asylum to work could help in the fight against forced labour. Long periods spent in poverty, without the right to work, make people more vulnerable to exploitation, including exploitative labour. One recent study that explored experiences of forced labour among people seeking asylum in England found that "the experience of severely exploitative labour, including forced labour, is often unavoidable for refugees and asylum seekers in order to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families." [7] The OECD has found that legal barriers to employment risk people resorting to informal work. [8] Giving people seeking asylum permission to work earlier in the process may help to tackle this, thus helping to reinforce the Government’s efforts to end forced labour and exploitation.

f. Benefiting the UK economy by allowing people seeking asylum to contribute, and reducing the costs associated with asylum support

There is a compelling financial argument for granting people seeking asylum the right to work. The Lift the Ban coalition has estimated that the Government could save around £42.4 million by ceasing payment of subsistence (cash) support to people seeking asylum and the extra money received by the exchequer through payroll contributions from income tax and national insurance.

g. Delivering evidence-based, popular and pragmatic policy change.

Polling undertaken in 2018 with a wide cross-section of the UK population showed that 71% of people polled agreed that people seeking asylum should be given the right to work. This statement united people whose views on migration otherwise vary widely – with only 8% of those polled disagreeing – as well as those with different views on key political topics such as Brexit: 63% of Leave voters and 78% of Remain voters agreed that asylum seekers should be allowed to work. [9]

What are the arguments against reform?

The right to work as a ‘pull factor’

7. T he 2018 report by the Lift the Ban coalition found that there is no published evidence to support the lo ng-term validity that the right to work act s as a pull factor . S tudies that do exist show that there is little to no evidence of a link between economic rights and entitlements and the destination choices of those seeking asylum. To the extent that a deliberate choice is made at all, the elements shaping such decisions are generally determined by colonial links , language skills , the presence of relatives and friends in the host country, and the belief tha t the host country is safe, toler ant and democratic – not a specific knowledge of the conditions of reception upon arrival. Of the 246 people who responded to a survey carried out by Lift the Ban coalition members , 72% stated that they had not known prior to arriving in the UK that people seeking asylum are not allowed to work.

8. If the right to work is granted after six months , it is unlikely to make it more attractive to seek asylum in the UK for those motivated by economic reasons. Those with economic motivations are un likely to make an asylum application and bring themselves to the attention of the authorities, on the basis that they will not have received an initial decision in six months and might then be able to apply for the right to work. Were an economic migrant to do this, their asylum claim would be resolved long before the six-month threshold after which an applicant could seek permission to work, a fact that the Government has accepted.

9. The Government’s opposition to granting permission to work after six months is made on the basis that it might lead to an increase in unfounded claims, despite generally accepting that it has no evidence to support this position. Indeed, the Government itself has previously conceded that "it may be broadly true" that "there is little hard evidence that the change you propose (to allow asylum seekers to work after six months) would result in more asylum applications." [10]

Labour market impact

10. Concerns have been raised that the proposed change would have a negative impact on the UK labour market - by creating further competition for those who are currently out of work. However, it is important to note that while this policy would have a huge impact on the lives of individuals who are waiting in the asylum system, its impact on the labour market would be negligible. In 2018 , Lift the Ban coalition estimated that the proposal would provide the right to work for approximately 11,000 people. Even if we assumed a 50% employment rate, then the actual number entering the workforce would be c.5,500 who would be dispersed around the country in line with the Home Office’s asylum dispersal policy. It is unlikely this figure would make a dent in the UK’s current workforce . In addition, as noted above, those who are forced to live on inadequate support for extended periods of time are more likely to resort to illegal work which is often extremely exploitative and undermines labour standards more generally .


11. Granting the right to work to asylum seekers who have been waiting for an initial decision for more than six months will help to avoid the negative impacts of prolonged forced inactivity and impoverishment, and allow them to contribute to the economy. This will deliver financial savings to the Government and the taxpayer, as asylum seekers who are working will need less financial support. This policy has support from MPs across the political spectrum. Broad-based support for this policy exists outside parliament, as reflected in the membership of the Lift the Ban coalition, which includes the CBI and TUC, think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and Bright Blue, the Church of England and Church of Scotland, and a growing number of city councils which have noted that this would also increase buy-in to the asylum dispersal system.

June 2020

[1] See UK Gov, ‘Asylum applications awaiting a decision’ dataset (2020), available at:

[2] See Lift the Ban (2018) ‘Lift the Ban: Why People Seeking Asylum Should have the Right to Work’, London, available at:

[3] See Office for National Statistics (2014) ‘Income, Expenditure and Personal Well-being, 2011/12’, available at: http://webarchive. ons/dcp171766_365207.pdf

[4] See the 2007 and 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys, which look at the mental health and wellbeing of people in England, available at: adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey . Also see Sally McManus, Paul Bebbington, Rachel Jenkins and Traolach Brugha (eds.) (2016) ‘Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014’ (NHS Digital: Leeds), available at: pdf/q/3/mental_health_and_wellbeing_in_england_full_report.pdf

[5] Margaret Linn, Richard Sandifer and Shayna Stein (1985) ‘Effects on unemployment on mental and physical health’, American Journal of Public Health 75(5): 502-506.

[6] Lisa Hartley and Caroline Fleay (2014) ‘Policy as Punishment: Asylum Seekers in the Community Without the Right to Work’, available at:

[7] Hannah Lewis et al. (2013) Precarious lives: Experiences of forced labour among refugees and asylum seekers in England, Research Report, University of Leeds.

[8] OECD (2016) ‘Making Integration Work: Refugees and others in need of protection’ (OECD, Paris), available at:

[9] Jill Rutter and Rosie Carter (2018) ‘National Conversation on Immigration: Final report’, available at: articles/national-conversation-final-report/

[10] Letter from Earl Attlee to Lord Roberts, 31 March 2014


Prepared 15th June 2020