On the 20th January 2016 the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun spoke in support of an amendment to the Government’s Immigration Bill, in the name of Lord Kennedy of Southwark. The Bishop supported the aim of the amendment that asylum seekers should be allowed to work whilst waiting for their claims to be processed. The Bishop pointed to a resolution from the General Synod of the Church of England, which considered this issue in 2009 and favoured a 9 month period after which individuals could seek work. The amendment was withdrawn at the end of the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, Amendment 134, which I wish to support, is simple, just and proportionate in its aims. I accept that Home Office officials must, in the discharge of their duties in this area, deal with barriers of language, emotional distress, the fear of authority, the complexity of people’s lives and, on occasion, deceit. All this takes time. However, it is far from unknown for applicants for asylum to wait months or even years for a substantive decision in their case. This subjects them to a fearful limbo, with limited means of support and the background anxiety of not knowing for a very prolonged period what the outcome will be. Furthermore, we know from the experience of our own citizens the deleterious effects of prolonged inactivity on their emotional and physical well-being, and how this can erode an individual’s skill base
.The European Union’s reception conditions directive, which came into force last July, recognises this and requires of all EU countries—except Ireland, Denmark and the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was saying—that asylum seekers waiting nine months for a decision may work. Germany has responded, interestingly, by legislating for a three-month threshold.
It is the policy of the Church of England, by resolution at its General Synod in February 2009, that all asylum seekers should be granted permission to seek employment. If the Government brought forward their own amendment with a threshold of nine months rather than six, as here, I could accept that. What is manifestly unfair is excluding such individuals from the world of work for an indefinite period, as at present. This amendment, with its threshold of six months, is not an invitation for migrants to enter the UK job market by an easy route. It could not be, with that sort of threshold. It is a measured and fair response to a manifestly unfair and damaging exclusion. I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and others.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: [extract]: My Lords, this is an emotive issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, these are not new arguments. In fact, I think they were had on the last Immigration Act and possibly in immigration Bills before that. Of course, it is an emotive issue and everyone has sympathy with the plight of some of the people whom we are talking about. It is a difficult line to draw and we have to draw a balance.
I have listened carefully to the arguments in favour of allowing permission to work where an asylum claim is still outstanding after six months, removing the caveat that any delay must not be of the asylum seeker’s own making, and lifting restrictions on the types of employment available. The amendments would radically change existing permission-to-work arrangements for asylum seekers and the Government are not convinced that that is sensible. As a general rule, the Government believe that it is not appropriate to allow asylum seekers to work. It is important that we protect the resident labour market for those lawfully present in the UK.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: Did the Minister listen to the employment statistics announced by one of our Ministers three weeks ago? She said that there were 200,000 job vacancies in the UK.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: I am not aware of those statistics, but I will take a look at them….It is important that we protect the resident labour market for those lawfully present in the UK and discourage those not in need of protection from claiming asylum for economic reasons. ..
The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, talked about other countries that allow asylum seekers to work that had fewer asylum claims and whether reducing the period would act as a pull factor for asylum seekers. Germany, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others, allows asylum seekers to work after three months and the highest number of applicants were registered in Germany in 2015, including thousands of migrants from the western Balkans who are economic migrants and rarely qualify for asylum. Germany has the highest asylum intake in the EU…