Tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers given right to work
Tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers are to be allowed to work in the UK after the Government lost a legal battle over EU rules.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Published: 7:00AM BST 29 Jul 2010
The Supreme Court dismissed a Home Office challenge to an EU directive that allows asylum seekers to look for work if their claim has not been processed within a year.
The dispute centred on the rights of asylum seekers who have already had one application for shelter rejected but then submit a fresh claim – individuals who the Home Office argued were not covered by the directive and were therefore not entitled to seek employment.
But the Supreme Court ruled they are eligible, paving the way for at least 45,000 failed asylum seekers in Britain to start looking for jobs.
Ministers fear the decision will encourage more and more failed asylum seekers to submit “wholly unmeritorious claims” in a bid to stay longer in the UK and earn money.
It also comes at a time when millions of Britons are out of work and jobs are in short supply.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to look for work when they initially submit claims to the UK.
But under the European Council's Reception Directive, which the UK Government signed up to the after it was introduced in 2003, those same applicants are entitled to work if the claim is still outstanding after 12 months.
Yesterday, Supreme Justices, the country's most senior judges, concluded the same rules apply to any asylum seeker who has already had at least one claim rejected but has submitted a fresh one.
New asylum claims are usually submitted based on further evidence such as a change in conditions in the applicant's home country or their personal circumstances. If the second claim is eventually rejected then the applicant loses their right to work and will face removal.
The Home Office estimates at least 45,000 people will be immediately affected by the ruling, mainly from the so-called legacy backlog of 450,000 asylum cases that date back to the mid-1990s but were never dealt with.
Officials insisted the effects of the ruling would therefore be “short term” because the legacy backlog is due to be cleared by next summer.
Those eligible may also be restricted to only working in certain jobs, such as those on the Government's shortage occupation list, a Home Office source suggested.
But lawyers for the Home Secretary warned the Supreme Court that “if the Reception Directive is held to apply to subsequent applications for asylum, the potential for abuse of the system would be greatly increased”.
“Wholly unmeritorious claims would be put forward by applicants who saw the opportunity of not only delaying their removal but also of gaining access to the benefits that the Directive confers.”
The case was brought after the Home Office challenged a Court of Appeal ruling in favour of a Somali woman, known as ZO, and a Burmese man, MM.
Both had been told they could not work in the UK after submitting fresh asylum claims.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: “Yet again a European Directive is having unintended and thoroughly unwelcome consequences.
“We already have enough people going around the course twice and this can only encourage more applicants to exploit legal avenues for yet further delay.”
Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “I believe it is important to maintain a distinction between economic migration and asylum giving failed asylum seekers access to the labour market undermines this principle.
“I am already committed to reviewing the asylum process to make it more cost effective and quicker. In the future I want to be able to remove failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home voluntarily well before they can qualify to work.
But Jonathan Ellis, director of policy at the Refugee Council, said: “The vast majority of asylum seekers who come to the UK would rather support themselves through work than be forced to be homeless or to rely on Government support.
“Denying asylum seekers the chance to work means they cannot contribute to the UK economy and condemns asylum seekers and their families to abject poverty.”
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