I often hear people saying they would like the UK to be able to accept more refugees if only we could afford it. At first, this argument can seem convincing when we constantly hear stories about our overwhelmed NHS and other public services.
However, a study published in Science Advances in 2018 found that in Western Europe asylum seekers in fact contribute to the economies. The study, using 30 years of data from 15 Western European countries, found that the arrival of asylum seekers leads to both an increase in GDP per capita and a decrease in unemployment (no, they’re not ‘stealing our jobs’). Higher GDP per capita means more money to fund those vital services.
However, the time it takes for asylum seekers to significantly benefit the economy is longer than other migrants – from three to seven years. Partly, this is because asylum seekers may need to learn the language of their host country, limiting their immediate employment prospects. This will always be a challenge, and is why RefuNet is so passionate about teaching English.
However, in the UK, one of the real barriers to asylum seekers contributing to the economy is the government’s policy on rights to work. Currently, asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK whilst their asylum claim is processed, which often takes over six months and can take over a year. In some cases, they may be granted permission to work in a job on the official Shortage Occupation List, but only if they have waited for 12 months for a decision on their asylum claim. Whilst waiting, asylum seekers have to survive on just £5.39 a day.
To me, this seems wrong for many reasons. From an economic point of view, it seems crazy to prevent asylum seekers from contributing to the economy and instead creating a cost for the government. From a human point of view, for people who have often gone through long, traumatic journeys, being stuck in limbo on arrival in the UK can be disheartening and depressing. Getting a job is so important for both integration and having a sense of purpose, in what is a challenging time for asylum seekers trying to adapt to a new country. They have had to leave behind their old lives, but are left waiting, unable to rebuild their new lives.
The government is currently reviewing its policy on restricting asylum seekers’ right to work and Refugee Action is campaigning to fully lift the ban on asylum seekers working. This is our opportunity to help make the process of rebuilding a life in the UK a little easier. You can find more information on their campaign and sign their petition here: