The latest immigration statistics for the year ending 2022 show that the backlog of asylum cases is at its highest point as it climbs to 160,000 pending applications. Subsequently, the number of people claiming support while their protection claims are awaiting consideration has also risen in proportion to these figures.
Those claiming asylum in the UK are not eligible to work while their claims are being processed unless they have been pending for more than 12 months. Even then, permission to work is restricted to those positions on the shortage occupation list. As a result of this policy, those claiming asylum have no alternative but to accept financial or housing support from the government for the first 12 months.
What do the figures show?
Applications for ‘section 95’ support is submitted once an asylum claim is registered, which provides a weekly allowance and the provision of accommodation. What the new figures show, however, is a dramatic rise in ‘section 98’ support, which is an interim form of support available for those whose decisions on section 95 haven’t been processed.
The number of people claiming section 95 support has risen from 43,549 at the end of 2019 to 55,817 at the end of 2022. The larger rise, however, is in those claiming section 98 support which is up from 2,738 in 2019 to 49,493 in 2022.
It is estimated that 45,756 migrants crossed the channel in small boats in 2022 and, as stated, the backlog of asylum claims stands at around 160,000. The figures suggest that a large proportion of claimants have already waited longer than 12 months for a decision on their applications with many seeing no progress at all on their claims.
Is there an alternative?
As the UK struggles with a cost-of-living crisis and increasing attempts by the government to make ever more creative cuts to spending on public services, we must wonder at what point do we start to question if there might not be a better and more productive way for this situation to be managed.
The suggestion of extending permission to work to asylum claimants while their applications are being processed has been aired on several occasions in the past, but the government’s prevailing opinion has been against the proposal. Despite the arguments that it would allow for easier integration into the communities that asylum claimants ultimately aim to live within and would have the joint benefit of increasing economic productivity whilst cutting government costs, the idea is still strongly opposed by some.
The most often repeated concern is that granting asylum claimants access to the labour market will act as a ‘pull factor’ and increase the appeal of so called ‘economic migration’, leading to an increase in the number of those making the journey to the UK.
What this view ignores, however, is that those wishing to work in this way would still need to be able to make a legitimate claim for asylum as otherwise their application would eventually be rejected, leading to removal. There is no certainty that the financial cost and personal risk of travelling to the UK simply for work purposes would be recoverable. It is unlikely that this would be a primary factor – it is not the promise of work that makes desperate people make the hazardous journey across the Channel.
What’s the benefit?
At present, the cost of housing asylum claimants in hotels across the country is approximately £5.6 million per day. At a time when the government is looking to make cuts to public spending, this is a figure is too large to ignore when there is an alternative available to us.
Allowing those awaiting decisions on their claims to work would create revenue for the government via taxation and would lead to a reduction in overall spending on asylum support as those earning an income would no longer be eligible for it.
As an illustration, if all of those currently housed under section 98 support were able to work full time on just the UK minimum wage, this would not only reduce or remove the £5.6 million per day spent on support, but would also create an additional £115.5 million in combined tax and national insurance. Meaning that with the two figures combined, the government, and therefore the country would be approximately £2.15 billion better off.
The simple truth is that since 2012, immigration has become increasingly politicised. The narratives that have been built around it have reached the point, where it has become almost impossible for the government to step back and see the situation in anything but a negative light. This is blinding our political leaders to the fact that we are housing thousands of people, at great cost to the public, who would be willing and able to join the UK workforce and contribute directly to our economy.
If the Prime Minister and Home Secretary were able to look at the situation, without the obscuring optics that politics can often apply, they would see that there is a simple solution to the cost of housing asylum claimants. Let them work to support themselves.
John Cahill is a Partner at the Immigration Advice Service. He is highly practiced in the field, working on a wide range of immigration and asylum cases throughout his career.
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