Putting people's skills, training and talents to use

Why it makes sense to Lift the Ban on Asylum Seekers working Elfie Seymour  |  Tue Feb 22 2022
Putting people's skills, training and talents to use
In 2021, a group of people in the asylum system developed a survey to explore the range of the talents, skills, and professions available amongst their community. It was translated into 5 languages and received 125 responses. This is some of what we learned…

Working people are banned from working by a law that makes no sense.

All but a handful of respondents were in the prime of their working life. Before having to flee their home country, four out of five people had been employed. Of the remaining fifth, many were under 18 and still in school when they had to leave their home and seek asylum.

The most common skills and talents were in health and social care: people had been doctors, technicians, nurses and care workers, all extremely valuable skills that are needed in our communities. Earlier in 2021 The Committee on the Administration of Justice, Unison and PPR wrote to the Health Minister to seek his support for the right to work for asylum seekers – experienced doctors who were available to help during the pandemic. You can read the letter and the Minister’s response here.

Pie chart with survey results showing the range of jobs people seeking refuge had prior to fleeing their homes: Food & Accommodation (9%), Health Care (21%), Info & Communication (17%), Education (13%), Construction (13%), Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing (13%), Professional, Technical & Scientific (13%)

The range of professions reported in the survey is incredible, from pre-school teachers to graphic designers, actresses to farmers and civil engineers to bus drivers.

Almost all respondents had spent years acquiring their skills in academic and vocational settings. Over 4 out of 5 people held academic qualifications and nearly one in three had a university degree or higher.

Asylum seekers living locally are doctors, radiologists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, nurses, medical laboratory specialists, IT engineers, financial analysts and more – all of them banned from working and putting their skills to use in our communities because of the Home Office’s Hostile Environment policies.

We don’t have to import the hostile environment – join the kind economy.

In hopeful resistance to the hostile system developed in Westminster – which tries its hardest to isolate and abuse – people seeking asylum are contributing to our communities from the minute they arrive; house by house, street by street, family by family. In many ways the unpaid labour and compassion of people in the asylum system is helping charities, businesses and community groups keep afloat despite savage cuts to services. Asylum seekers are constantly delivering positive changes at the community and family level, despite the harsh Home Office restrictions on every aspect of their lives.

Quote from participant: What would being able to work mean for you? "Putting my skills into practice and being able to contribute to society instead of letting them go to waste by sitting home doing nothing."

Imagine what could be achieved if people were allowed to do what they were trained to do – what they’re good at!

We believe in acting now to deliver a kind economy. We don’t have to import racism from Westminster. Through our daily actions we can create a society that allows people the freedom to develop and share their skills and doesn’t restrict people to specialist ‘shortage occupation lists’ to plug failing economic strategies.

The majority of political parties already support the call to Lift The Ban!

Every elected representative, public authority, civil society organisation, business, community, family and individual can do something. Together we can build a kind economy where we can all benefit from our neighbours’ experience, talents and expertise.

Accountability Update:

In August 2021 Lift The Ban met with Finance Minister, Conor Murphy to discuss ways the Department of Finance could use their powers to mitigate the harm being caused to asylum seekers and local communities by Hostile Environment policies.

Shortly after the meeting we received this positive statement from the Minister:

“Sinn Féin supports the right of asylum seekers to immediate access to the labour market, to the same labour rights as Irish citizens and to access to enterprise supports and training courses. It is time to put in place a new system based on human rights that respects human dignity and the right to work.”

In February 2022, both the Welsh and Scottish governments used the Legislative Consent mechanism to raise concerns about punitive Home Office immigration proposals (in this instance, provisions of the UK Nationality and Borders Bill) which they argue fall under their devolved, rather than Westminster’s reserved, powers. The NI Assembly has these same powers, but has yet to use them to champion asylum seekers’ rights in the same way as elected representatives in Scotland and Wales.

We know that much more is possible at the political level – in councils and the assembly and we look forward to further political support in future.

It’s time for the Kind Economy – everyone can do something - take action now!