Increasing number of asylum seekers being granted work permits due to backlogs

An increasing number of migrants who may be in the country illegally are getting the right to work in the UK, Sky News can reveal.

Asylum seekers living in migrant hotels are being granted work permits before a decision is reached on their asylum claims, due to the length of time they have been waiting.

The Home Office backlog in processing claims means almost 100,000 people had been waiting more than a year for an initial decision on their asylum claim at the end of June this year - an almost 80% increase from this time last year, according to the latest data.

Under UK immigration rules, anyone who has been waiting more than 12 months through no fault of their own can receive a work permit and apply for any job on the country's shortage occupation list.

Hussein, 34, who lives in a hotel in Staffordshire, is now working full-time for a charity after his work permit was granted in October this year.

He is still waiting for a decision on his asylum status, having arrived in the UK on a small boat at the beginning of July 2022.

He told Sky News he fled Iraq because he was concerned that previous work he'd done for Western armies was putting him and his family in danger.

On his phone are pictures of his young daughter back home, who he wants to help financially once he's earning a regular salary.

He said the £9-a-week given to asylum seekers by the government simply isn't enough to live on.

"We are getting very, very little money as financial support," he said.

Although he has his meals paid for by the taxpayer and served in his hotel, he insists it is not enough.

"In the end as a human being, as a person…life is not only sleeping and eating - you might need clothes, you might need shoes, you might need maybe if you have some habits like smoking or anything, so all of this needs money."

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He is certain that the other men living with him are given hope by watching him find full-time employment.

"Everybody who is seeing me in the hotel, they are also excited because of my job."

"They are seeing what I'm doing and they want to be the same way," he added.

Dozens of other migrants at his hotel arrived on the same route as Hussein - on small boats across the Channel.

They, too, are now reaching the threshold for finding paid work.

'I didn't choose to come and stay in [a] hotel'

Khalid, 30, from Syria, has been waiting for a decision on his asylum claim for 14 months.

"Many guys here they feel like in prison," he said.

His work permit has just arrived. He said he will do any job, and doesn't want to remain living at the expense of the taxpayer.

In broken English he told us: "This is the wrong from the government, not from me. I didn't choose to come and stay in [a] hotel.

"I start work, I will not stay in the hotel, I can buy, rent or do something, from my business, from my job."

But not all asylum seekers who are eligible want to get to work before they know what their future holds.

Khater, 30, from Sudan, said that without the Home Office declaring his asylum claim valid he will not attempt to find work.

He said he also wants to study more: "I want to improve my language first and speak fluently, and then I'm going to get a job."

Another asylum seeker from Sudan - Elamin, 30 - admited the reason he came to the UK is to earn money.

"I want to be independent more - to help my family [in Sudan]."

According to figures seen by Sky News, around 91,000 people were waiting more than a year for a decision on their asylum claims by the end of June 2023.

That figure makes up more than half (52%) of the entire backlog of asylum claims at the Home Office.

'I can understand why the public would be outraged'

In November 2022, 51,189 asylum seekers had been waiting more than a year for an initial decision on their claim according to figures released to the Refugee Council following a Freedom of Information request, meaning the backlog is growing at an alarming rate for some immigration solicitors.

Monira Hussain, an immigration lawyer in Oldham, said that enquiries from asylum seekers requesting help with their applications for work permits are now a daily occurrence.

She told Sky News she does not know why decisions have slowed: "I can understand why the public would be outraged."

"Ultimately what I would like to see the immigration system doing is processing their applications quicker, then we wouldn't have this situation", she added.

Some believe the rules need to be changed now the backlog of claims is so large.

Karl Williams, Deputy Research Director at the Centre for Policy Studies, said knowing they can get the right to work simply by waiting long enough makes Britain more attractive to migrants.

"There was perhaps a case for it when there were far fewer people in the asylum system. But at the moment it's clearly acting as a massive pull factor for people coming here."

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He believes for the British public, the fact that asylum seekers are working legitimately "will just enhance that fundamental sense that this is unfair".

"These people are coming here illegally, they're jumping the queue ahead of people who are using proper systems, and they are taking advantage of the taxpayer and the kindness and generosity of the public."

The Home Office told Sky News: "The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, which is why we have taken immediate action to speed up application processing times and cut costs for taxpayers.

"Between the end of November 2022 and August 2023, the backlog of legacy cases has fallen by over 35,000."

The government insists asylum seekers do not need to make perilous journeys in order to seek employment in the UK - and admits that Britain's wider immigration policy could be undermined if migrants bypassed work visa rules by lodging unfounded asylum claims here.

Despite more and more asylum seekers legitimately making a living, it is still unlikely their uncertain status would satisfy the requirements for moving out of their hotel accommodation.

Whether the public likes it or not, a growing number of asylum seekers are now legally part of Britain's workforce - but with no guarantee they will be allowed to continue their life here.

Additional reporting by Nick Stylianou, communities producer.