Asylum seekers are generally not permitted to work in the UK whilst their claim for asylum is processed. UK asylum seekers may be entitled to receive financial support and be homed while their application is being considered. This entitlement usually applies to those asylum seekers who have no means of supporting themselves financially and would otherwise be rendered destitute if not given financial assistance by the state. Asylum seekers may also receive free medical treatment from the NHS whilst awaiting the outcome of their application.
Should Asylum Seekers be Allowed to Work?
Some people have argued that preventing asylum seekers from working is counter-productive and unreasonable. The rule places an additional financial burden on public resources which are already stretched. Asylum-seekers, who may be qualified to carry out useful employment, are prevented from providing for themselves and for any dependents who may be with them in the UK.
European Law and the “Reception Directive” on Asylum Seekers
Under a European law relating to asylum – known as the “Reception Directive” – asylum seekers can expect a certain level of treatment whilst their application is being considered. The law states that asylum seekers are entitled to have a “dignified standard of living” whilst their application is processed.
In accordance with the Reception Directive, the UK’s immigration rules state that an asylum seeker whose application has not been concluded within one year is entitled to receive permission to work in the UK whilst their application is being considered. This entitlement will not apply if the asylum seeker contributed to the delay in their application being processed and the permission only covers the period until their application is finally determined.
The UK Supreme Court Case on Asylum Seekers Working in the UK
A July 2010 ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court has, partly, qualified the rule which prevents asylum seekers from working whilst their application is being considered.
The case related to two asylum seekers who had previously had their application for asylum turned down by the UK’s Secretary of State for the Home Department. Both asylum seekers had appealed the refusal of their application for asylum and those appeals had also been unsuccessful. They had subsequently both made renewed applications for asylum. It was argued that these latest applications essentially represented a new and separate claim for asylum. When these applications had not been finally decided after one year the asylum seekers had applied for permission to work in the UK until these latest claims were concluded.
The Supreme Court case centred upon the question of whether an applicant making a second, or subsequent, application for asylum should be defined as an asylum seeker who was entitled to protection under the Reception Directive. The legal representatives for the UK government had argued that claimants making further applications did not necessarily come within this definition.
The UK’s immigration rules had said that an applicant making a subsequent claim for asylum was not entitled to be treated as an asylum seeker unless the Secretary of State had declared that their new application amounted to a “fresh claim” for asylum. The representatives for the applicants argued that they became asylum seekers – and entitled to protection under the European law – when they made their subsequent application and not when the Secretary of State decided whether it amounted to a fresh claim.
The Effect of the Supreme Court Decision on the UK’s Immigration Rules
The Supreme Court decided that there was nothing in the European law which prevented an applicant making a subsequent application for asylum from being treated as an asylum seeker. Consequently the claimants were entitled to receive permission to work until their new claims had been concluded.
This decision has forced a change in the UK’s immigration rules. However, the immigration authorities do not expect this change to have a long term impact on the entitlement of asylum seekers to work while their claim is being decided. They say that the change will only apply to asylum seekers who made their first claim for asylum in the UK prior to March 2007 and who have already made a second or subsequent claim for asylum which had not yet been finally determined.
Asylum seekers who do come within this exception will only be allowed to take up employment in a job which is included on the UK Border Agency’s list of “shortage occupations”. Further, asylum seekers are not allowed to undertake self-employed work or to start their own business.