The sound of silence: Rethinking asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK

Debates on asylum policy – specifically on their right to work – have been at an impasse, stuck between extremes. To break the policy impasse of over twenty years, this report makes the case for taking a different, centrist approach to the policy around asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK.

It considers not just how to give asylum seekers the right to work, but how to do so in a way that:

  • seeks to address the practical challenges many asylum seekers face in working, not just their theoretical right to do so;
  • better protects lawfully working asylum seekers from unfair labour practices and exploitation;
  • does not undermine public trust and faith in the fairness and importance of the international refugee regime and the protection of refugees, but also in the controls applied to failed asylum seekers.

Rather than treating all asylum seekers the same with regard to their right to work before their asylum claim is determined, this report argues that the aim should be to maximise the numbers of working asylum seekers who are subsequently determined to be refugees. To do this it proposes:

  1. targeting right to work at those asylum seekers most likely to be refugees – from ‘green’ list countries;
  2. restricting or strictly controlling right to work for those asylum seekers most likely not to be refugees – from ‘orange’ list countries.

The report also considers that asylum seekers given the right to work in the UK are likely to need significant support, and require better oversight of their employment arrangements, if the right to work that they have been given is to provide them with the reality of fair and productive employment.

Such a policy approach would align with majority public opinion which supports openness to refugees, but takes into account the fact that not all asylum seekers are refugees, and requires appropriate control and consequences in respect of those who are not.


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