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Lift the Ban: Campaigning for the Right to Work

In this guest blog for Refugee Week, Jen Laws, Campaigns Project Manager for the North East with Asylum Matters, shares some of the realities for people seeking asylum in the UK and why policy change is so important.

We would love to have the opportunity to work, not just because of being able to earn money but because we would have something good to think about. When you have to move from your home by force, you end up thinking about the bad things that happened to you. If we could work, we could feel useful for our new community and understand how we will fit in”.

For Neda and Hamid*, a sales manager and an engineer who are living in Middlesbrough while waiting for a decision on their claim for asylum, being able to find work would be a vital step in rebuilding their lives and forging links in their new community. And yet, despite the difference being able to work would make to them and the town they now live in, they are denied the right to work.

Today in the UK, people who are seeking sanctuary are effectively banned from working while they wait for a decision on their claim for asylum. Current policy says that people can only apply to the Home Office for permission to work if they have been waiting for a decision for over 12 months. Even then, they can only apply for jobs that are on the Government’s Shortage Occupation List. This is an incredibly restrictive list that includes jobs such as ballet dancer and nuclear medicine practitioner.

This means that for months, and sometimes years, people are unable to provide for themselves and their families, while their talents and skills are wasted. That is why the coalition behind the Lift the Ban campaign – which is made up of 200 VCS organisations, faith groups, trade unions, businesses and individuals from across the county – is campaigning for the right to work for people seeking asylum after six months of having lodged an asylum claim, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list.

We believe that this would:

  • Strengthen people’s chances of being able to integrate into their new communities;
  • Allow people seeking asylum to live in dignity and to provide for themselves and their families;
  • Give people the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential;
  • Improve the mental health of people in the asylum system;
  • Benefit the UK economy by allowing people seeking asylum to contribute, as well as reducing the costs associated with asylum support;
  • Deliver evidence-based, popular and pragmatic policy change.

Over the past months, people across the UK and North East have been working hard to bring about change. People seeking asylum, like Neda and Hamid, have spoken out about their experiences. Lift the Ban coalition members have taken action: grassroots charities have met with MPs, mayors and local councillors to make the case for lifting the ban, while national charities have reinforced those efforts in Westminster.  Business leaders have expressed their support for lifting the ban in the Financial Times, faith leaders like the Archbishop of York have made a compelling case for change, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty echoed the call to lift people out of poverty by providing the right to work.

Here in the North East, growing numbers of organisations are joining the coalition, with MVDA and Bright Minds Big Futures being our most recent members, while Newcastle, Gateshead, and Redcar and Cleveland Councils were the first councils nationally to pass motions to join the Lift the Ban coalition. The recent Lift the Ban Teesside Day of Action in Middlesbrough saw supporters gather from across the region, and we were delighted to be joined by Andy McDonald MP and Mayor Andy Preston who expressed their support for the campaign.

Thanks to these efforts, we are closer than ever to reaching our goal. The government has recently committed to reviewing the policy around the right to work, while the increased support of local decision-makers is providing important regional momentum. Now that we have reached this crucial point in the campaign, there are lots of things you can do to secure the right to work for people seeking sanctuary:

You can find more information and resources at lifttheban.co.uk, search for #LiftTheBan, or get in touch with me, Jennifer Laws.


*Names have been changed.

Jen Laws

Asylum Matters

Jennifer joined Asylum Matters as Campaigns Project Manager for the North East in January 2019. She began volunteering with people seeking asylum and refugees in Hartlepool in 2012, going on to work in various advice roles throughout the Tees Valley. She left the North East to complete an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, before spending two years working internationally with the humanitarian NGO MOAS in communications and campaigning roles.  During her spare time she enjoys sailing, travelling and reading.