Asylum seekers in UK should have right to work after six months, MPs say

<span>At present, most people awaiting a decision on an asylum claim have no right to work in the UK.</span><span>Photograph: Peter Marshall/Alamy</span>
At present, most people awaiting a decision on an asylum claim have no right to work in the UK.Photograph: Peter Marshall/Alamy

Asylum seekers should be given the right to work after six months and granted greater access to public services, MPs have said in a cross-party report on the UK’s immigration system.

The government’s existing policies appear “designed” to push migrants and asylum seekers into destitution while failing to deter them from coming to the UK, it concludes.

The report, to be published on Tuesday, was authored jointly by the all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) on poverty and migration after an inquiry, which drew on 200 expert submissions. It said taxpayers were bearing the cost of the existing immigration and asylum system.

In their recommendations, MPs and peers call on the government to allow asylum seekers to work six months after arriving in the UK while they await the outcome of their application.

At present, most people awaiting a decision on an asylum claim have no right to work in the UK.

There are limited exceptions after 12 months for those qualified to work in sectors where there are shortages, such as social care.

The report urges ministers to improve migrants’ access to social security and public services to avoid driving them into unsafe and exploitative work.

It calls for immigration and nationality fees to be reduced, especially for young people who are on the path to settlement and British citizenship.

It says that the existing 10-year route for migrants to be granted permanent settlement should be reduced to five years, and that no one on a path to settlement should be subject to “no recourse to public funds” rules for more than five years.

The report warns that by creating lengthy waits for asylum seekers and restricting their access to public services and social security payments, the government’s policies are pushing migrants in the UK into destitution.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that policy is sometimes designed to push people into poverty in the hope that it will deter others from moving to the UK, even though there is little evidence that this would indeed be a deterrent,” the report says.

It concludes that existing immigration policies are “inhumane and ineffective”, driving migrants into poverty while burdening local government, public services and taxpayers.

It calls for a comprehensive refugee integration and support strategy and suggests that ministers should look at offering all UK residents free English language lessons, regardless of their immigration status.

Ruth Lister, a Labour peer and co-author of the report, said its findings showed “that all too often government policy is creating hidden poverty and destitution for people in the immigration system”.

“By creating a hostile environment for many in vulnerable circumstances, it is not only pushing people into extreme poverty and destitution, but is leaving local communities – local government and civil society groups – to pick up the pieces,” she said.

Olivia Blake, a Labour MP and co-chair of the migration APPG, said: “It is widely acknowledged that the UK’s immigration system is broken, but our report shows that it appears to want to break the people within it as well.

“The impact of this is not only felt by the people in the immigration system but the communities they live within and the public services that they use.

“A more effective and less cruel system would serve our country, economy and society far better. This would lessen the cost to us all, realise the full potential of people within the system while also providing dignity and purpose to marginalised and vulnerable people.”

Others involved in producing the report included the former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, the Conservative peer Nosheena Mobarik and the SNP’s David Linden, who chairs the APPG on poverty.