Dame Sara Thornton has called on the government to publish the full version of its review into the employment ban for individuals awaiting asylum decisions.
Currently, asylum seekers in the UK do not have the right to work. Those who have been waiting for an asylum status decision for more than 12 months can apply for permission to work and if granted they can apply for a limited selection of jobs on the Shortage Occupation List. The Commissioner’s request follows the announcement on 8 December by immigration minister Tom Pursglove that a review of the current policy first promised in 2018 had concluded that the ban must remain in place. The written ministerial statement did not include full report findings or supporting evidence.
Access to decent work is fundamental to living a life of sustainable independence. Many survivors face lengthy delays for decisions about their trafficking status and those claiming asylum then face a further wait. Dame Sara first raised concerns about the impact of not being able to work during this time with the Home Office in October 2019, and suggested exploring an initiative permitting those awaiting NRM and asylum decisions access to paid work. Following further correspondence in March 2020 to the then Safeguarding Minister, Victoria Atkins MP, she was advised that the Home Office would await findings from the review of asylum seeker right to work before considering any specific initiatives for victims of modern slavery. Dame Sara raised the possibility of a pilot initiative for victims of modern slavery and the outstanding review for a third time in a letter to the Minister in October 2021.
An article published in the Independent on 17 December quoted the Commissioner alongside high profile figures including Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee. In the article Dame Sara raised her concerns about the length of time that victims of modern slavery and trafficking are unable to work while they wait for asylum status decisions, and that length of time compares badly with less restrictive policies in the United States and Europe. She also called for public debate on the issue.
Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:
"As the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I am aware of the harm caused to survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking unable to access training and work opportunities while they face delays in asylum status decisions. Organisations supporting survivors have also expressed concerns about the impact this has on individuals and their ability to achieve sustainable independence.
“The recent decision by the government to uphold the current approach to asylum seekers’ right to work is disappointing, and the absence of a full publicly available report to support it is concerning. It is important that the full review on the employment ban, including supporting evidence, is published so that we can have proper and informed debate on the issue.”