Posted on January 24, 2024

Channel Migrants Given Right to Work in UK

Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, January 19, 2024

Channel migrants have been quietly given the right to work in sectors including care, construction and agriculture and can still retain access to state-subsidised bed and board under a Home Office scheme.

Nearly 16,000 asylum seekers, including those who crossed the Channel in small boats, have been allowed to work in a single year, according to data obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

They have been allowed to work in occupations in which there are recognised staff shortages, and are paid 80 per cent of the going pay rate.

The migrants forgo their £49.13 a week state subsistence allowance if they earn more than that, but can negotiate with the Home Office to remain in asylum accommodation as long as they pay a contribution towards the cost.

On Friday night, Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, and Tory MPs critcised the scheme, warning that it could act as a “pull factor” to encourage migrants to come to the UK illegally.

Mr Farage told The Telegraph: “This is a disaster. Once the traffickers can advertise jobs and free board, even more will want to come. Rwanda is completely irrelevant in comparison to this.”

European countries, led by France, have previously blamed Britain’s generous work and welfare regime for encouraging migrant crossings, despite denials by UK officials that the systems are more tolerant.

Many illegal migrants are feared to work in the black market in Britain, which some in Europe also consider to be fuelling the migration crisis.

It comes as Rishi Sunak prepares for a showdown with the House of Lords as he seeks to push through his Rwanda Bill to get deportation flights off the ground by the spring as a deterrent to stop the boats.

The scheme giving migrants the right to work allows them to do so if their application remains unresolved after a year and they have yet to be granted leave to remain in the UK, but the Home Office has refused to reveal how many people benefit from it.

The FOI data obtained by The Telegraph has revealed the figures for the first time. It shows that they have ballooned, largely as a result of a 10-fold increase in the backlog of asylum seekers waiting over a year for a decision and a record surge in migrants crossing the Channel.

The data show that 19,231 migrants applied for work permits in 2022 and 15,706 applications were granted. That represented nearly a third of all the 51,000 asylum seekers in the one-year backlog of claims in 2022. Fewer than 5,000 were waiting more than a year in 2016.

Immigration experts believe the number of working asylum seekers for 2023 could have increased even further because of the extra demand for cheap foreign labour to plug staff shortages in care homes, the NHS, construction and agriculture. Backlogs of asylum seekers waiting over a year rose to 61,000 last year.

Miriam Cates, who co-chairs the New Conservatives Group of MPs, which has campaigned for a tougher approach to migration, said: “It’s understandable that asylum seekers might want to have a job while waiting for their claims to be processed.

“But we cannot solve the significant problems associated with irregular migration unless we deter people from crossing to the UK illegally – and this is the opposite of a deterrent.”

Alp Mehmet, the chairman of the Migration Watch think tank, said: “How can we take seriously the Government’s professed commitment to stopping the boats when such a ploy is under way?”

The scheme allowing asylum seekers to take jobs after a year is a legacy of an EU law from 2005, which reversed a measure introduced by Sir Tony Blair in 2002 barring illegal migrants from any right to work.

The then Labour leader instituted the crackdown to tackle a migration crisis similar to that being faced by Mr Sunak.

Some ministers and immigration advisers have argued that the Government should consider going further in the opposite direction and follow some other European countries that allow asylum seekers to work after six months.

They have cited the potential economic benefits in boosting growth and savings from migrants no longer receiving state benefits and free accommodation and instead paying income tax on their earnings.

Government sources claimed there was no evidence that the prospect of working in a shortage occupation after a year in the UK was a “pull factor”.

They said in the past year the Government had cleared the “legacy” backlog of asylum cases pre-dating June 2022, apart from 4,500 “complex” applications, which would have reduced the number eligible to work.

A Home Office source also noted that the scheme had been introduced under Labour but tightened by the coalition government, under Lord Cameron, to limit it to shortage occupations.