Dominic Raab, the new justice secretary, has said he would be “open-minded” about allowing asylum seekers to work to help tackle the UK’s labour shortage.
In what would be a major departure for the government, the former foreign secretary said such a move would allow people waiting for their claims to be processed to integrate and make a positive contribution to the UK.
His comments, in an interview with the Spectator, have been welcomed by campaigners who have demanded for a change to current policies which leave many claimants destitute. Most asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their case is considered and instead rely on the government for their housing and essential living needs.
As a child of a refugee – his Jewish father fled from Czechoslovakia as a child – Raab was asked whether he would support allowing asylum seekers to work while their claims are being processed. “I would be open-minded about it,” he reportedly told the magazine.
“What you want to try to do is turn this debate around, because the big challenge with migration over the last 20, 30 years – which probably wasn’t true when my father came here – is this sense that we just don’t integrate people well enough. If they learn the language and they can work, they integrate much better and they make a positive contribution,” he said.
In Thursday’s interview, Raab also advocated encouraging more employers to give prisoners paid work.
“We’ve been getting prisoners and offenders to do volunteering and unpaid work. Why not – if there are shortages – encourage them to do paid work where there’s a benefit for the economy, benefit for society?” he said.
As a general rule, asylum seekers can only apply for work in the UK if their claim takes more than a year for an initial decision and if any delay to their claim was the fault of the government. If they are granted the right to work, they can only work in certain professions which are experiencing labour shortages.
Reports have claimed that the Home Office has been reviewing the right of asylum seekers to work since 2018.
But a senior Home Office official earlier this month denied that there was any such review.
Asked by a member of the home affairs select committee if a review was under way, the second permanent secretary Tricia Hayes said: “We do not have any plans to revise those parameters at this time.
“We support people, but we are not looking to change the terms and conditions at this time.”
Critics of any change to the rules have raised concerns that more favourable rights may act as a ‘pull-factor’ to the UK.
In December 2018, the then home secretary Sajid Javid told parliament that he would like to review the ban. Asked about asylum seekers’ right to work in July 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson said the Home Office is currently “reviewing that matter” and that his government “will announce it soon.”
Last week, the recently sacked justice secretary Robert Buckland called for the government to allow those seeking asylum to be allowed to work.
“I was interested to read the leading article of last week’s Spectator suggesting that asylum seekers should be allowed to work as they wait for their claims to be processed.
“This already happens in Denmark. That system, I’d say, is well worth a look,” he wrote in the magazine.