Refugee Action launched the Lift the Ban campaign alongside over 80 other organisations, including the University of Liverpool’s ‘Help the Homeless Society’.

The campaign calls for parliament to ‘lift the ban’ on the right to work for those seeking asylum in the UK. This would amend the current inhumane system which perpetuates poverty and adds to the trauma already experienced by asylum seekers who have had to flee the horrors from their own country. At present, people seeking asylum in the UK are only able to apply for the right to work after they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for over a year. After that long, distressing wait, the small proportion of people who are granted permission seldom are able to work in practise due to the limited professions on the Shortage Occupation List. Despite the Home Office’s aim to process the application within 6 months, the reality is that 48% of these go beyond that target. Therefore people are essentially banned from working whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, a process which often takes years. Consequently, they have no choice but to live on just £5.39 per day, which wastes the skills of many people and prolongs their struggle of supporting their family. Shockingly, a survey* of 246 people with direct experience of the asylum process found that 52% of respondents admitted to having used food banks at some point in the last year. One participant, Rose, has been waiting for a decision for over 3 years. She described not being able to work as “crippling”, stating she wants to work so she can prove herself to her children.

The Lift the Ban coalition is asking the UK Government to give people seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, the right to work unconstrained by the Shortage Occupation List, and after they have waited six months for a decision on their initial asylum claim or further submission. The survey also found that 94% would like to work if they were given permission. A policy change could massively benefit the economy, with estimated net gains for the Exchequer of around £42.4 million. A large cross-sectional study found that 71% of the UK population supports a policy change, believing it is important for asylum seekers to be integrated into society, and the longer the wait, the harder it will be. Asylum seekers often volunteer to fill their time and gaps on their CV, but may be forced to walk miles to do so due to not being able to afford travel costs such as bus fares.

Contrary to popular belief, 74% of asylum seekers surveyed had secondary-level education or higher, and 37% had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, which is just short of the UK graduate total (42%). It therefore seems a poor use of resources to give people subsistence support when they could be contributing to society by working, and moreover the government would actually benefit from their taxes. The argument that asylum seekers are being given money for free and ‘scrounging’ off benefits is ultimately flawed given that they are being banned from working despite their talents, and therefore have no choice but to survive off benefits. Some people have had no choice but to experience exploitative and forced labour due to desperation and in order to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families.

If you would like to find out more, please read the Lift the Ban coalition report:

You can sign the petition to lift the ban here:

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*The survey was carried out by Lift the Ban coalition member organisations, across the UK. Three focus group discussions were also held with people who have direct experience of the asylum process in London, Manchester, and Nottingham.