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Asylum Seekers: Right to Work

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

Our current policy allows asylum seekers to work in jobs on the shortage occupation list, where their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more through no fault of their own. However, there is ongoing work in this area, and I continue to have discussions with stakeholders and right hon. and hon. Members on this very important subject.

I hear the argument the Minister is making, but I remain baffled about why the Government are prepared to allow people, often very highly skilled people, to come to this country and force them to live on £5.40 a day, when they often have the skills we are crying out for, especially in key health service sectors. Does she not agree with me that allowing asylum seekers to rebuild their lives by going into employment and making an economic contribution would make them feel valued and would have benefits for us as well?

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. Of course, this policy is designed to protect the resident labour market so that access to employment is prioritised for British citizens, and it is important to reflect that about 50% of asylum seekers are ultimately found not to be in need of international protection.

The asylum system simply is not working. Between 2010 and 2016, 81,000 asylum applications were either refused or withdrawn, yet only one third of these people were removed and 54,000 are still here. Before considering the employment of asylum seekers, will the Immigration Minister sort out the asylum system itself?

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to making sure that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay and to making sure that, when decisions are made, they are the right decisions first time. He makes an important point about returns. This Government are committed to working both with stakeholders and with individual people who have failed in their asylum claims to promote voluntary returns and make sure that they are returned to their home countries, where it is safe to do so.

My constituent Ehi Izevbaye has been in the UK for more than 14 years with no right to work and he has a 10-year-old daughter. He has been repeatedly turned down for leave to remain and now faces deportation. They say he has run out of options. The Home Office has made a catalogue of errors and mistakes with this incredibly complex case. Please will the Minister look personally at the case and review it, and either agree to meet me to discuss it further or consider what she can do to help him?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that individual case. I am of course happy to meet her to discuss it in detail. In circumstances in which somebody has had a claim outstanding for a considerable period and has a child, it is important that we continue to act to ensure that we are faster in making decisions.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of work for physical and mental wellbeing and for community integration? Does she agree that we should do everything we can to ensure integration?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of work. I often say, with no irony whatsoever, that I spent a very happy 12 months at the Department for Work and Pensions. I am conscious of the importance of work for people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, not to mention the fact that children are better off when their parents are in work. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention integration. I commend the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on its integration Green Paper, and the Home Office is working closely with it.

I wonder whether in her own surgery the right hon. Lady has ever had to look an asylum-seeking constituent in the eye and explain to them why they are forced to walk around with a plastic card that says, “Not permitted to work”. The right to work is a fundamental human right, so is it not about time that the Government extended that right to all asylum seekers?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening when I made the point that the policy is about protecting the labour market for British workers. Of course I have met asylum seekers in my surgery. Indeed, the ward of Swaythling in Southampton has one of the highest numbers of supported asylum seekers in the entire city, and it falls within my constituency. It is important that we get the balance right and find out how we can best support people into work, but what we do not want to do is create perverse incentives for people to seek to come here by circumventing our important immigration rules, which reserve the right to work for those who have applied through the correct processes.