Carol Monaghan, MP for Glasgow North West, has expressed her disappointment at being unable to present her Private Member’s Bill on Asylum Seekers’ work rights.
The Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill was scheduled to have its Second Reading on Friday 5th March 2021. However, last month the House of Commons agreed a motion to temporarily suspend Westminster Hall and sitting Fridays. This measure was taken to restrict the number of people on the Parliamentary Estate each week, in turn making the Houses of Parliament safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the House of Commons, sitting Fridays are an opportunity for MPs to present and debate Private Members’ Bills (PMBs). PMBs are proposed legislation introduced by MPs that are not members of the UK Government. As such, PMBs allow MPs from all parties to propose and discuss new policy ideas from across the political spectrum.
The Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill aimed to grant asylum seekers the right to work in the UK after they had waited 6 months on their asylum application decision. Additionally, it sought to remove limitations to the kinds of work that asylum seekers may pursue.
Current Home Office legislation stipulates that asylum seekers may only be granted permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum application for more than 12 months. However, even after this threshold has been passed, asylum seekers are only permitted to seek employment in roles from the UK Government’s highly selective Shortage Occupation List. This List details employment roles that are in specialist/high demand within the UK economy, but severely limits the occupations open to asylum seeker applicants.
The Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill was proposed by Carol Monaghan MP and is supported by a group of fellow SNP MPs.
Commenting on the current situation, Monaghan said:
“I am very disappointed not to have the chance to present The Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill to my colleagues in the House of Commons. I completely understand that the decision to suspend sitting Fridays was taken to restrict the danger of spreading COVID-19 within the Parliamentary Estate. I support any measures that protect the wider public and my colleagues from the risks of COVID-19.
“However, this PMB addresses a very urgent issue within our society. Current asylum seeker policy essentially equates to a working ban, blocking many asylum seekers from the labour market for months on end, and others indefinitely.
“Of paramount concern is the extremely limited nature of the UK Government’s Shortage Occupation List. Even when asylum seekers surpass their decision wait period, the vast majority are actively prevented from working due to this exclusionary List. The roles on the List include geophysicist, archaeologist, orchestral musician, and welding tradesperson. These are not common nor entry-level occupations, to say the least.
“In reality, the Shortage Occupation List acts as a permanent block to the labour market for many asylum seekers. This drives individuals into exploitative situations, only exacerbating their trauma and limiting the positive impact these asylum seekers can have on our communities and society.
“In the absence of paid work, numerous asylum seekers are left with no other option but to claim asylum support, which comes to £5.66 per day. It is impossible for many of us to even contemplate making ends meet on £5.66 per day, but in practice this hardship is inflicted on people who have already escaped dangerous and harrowing circumstances.
“Restricting access to work also limits asylum seekers’ ability to integrate into our society. Working allows asylum seekers to function independently and confidently, and it also facilitates language learning and the formation of interpersonal bonds between people from different cultures. The UK Government has hailed the post-Brexit era as one of a ‘Global Britain’ that is both ‘open’ and ‘outward-looking’. It seems logical that asylum seeker integration is compatible with this vision.
“Allowing asylum seekers to work sooner would also be economically beneficial for the UK. If as little as half of those waiting for asylum application results for more than 6 months were able to work, the UK Government would have a funding surplus of approximately £97.8 million per year. This increased revenue could be directed towards other policy areas, and could alleviate some of the financial pressure on our public services.
“Internationally, the UK lags far behind its counterparts in granting asylum seekers the right to work. If the UK were to reduce the 12-month waiting threshold to 6 months, it would join ranks with countries such as the US, France, Spain, The Netherlands, and Denmark. Additionally, countries such as Spain and the Republic of Ireland place little to no restrictions on the type of employment available to asylum seekers.
“Clearly, this policy issue is not one that can fade into the background. I will continue to lobby for a change to current asylum seeker legislation, and I will push to present the Asylum Seeker (Permission to Work) Bill to Parliament as soon as possible.”