Labour ditches plans to let asylum seekers work after six months

Labour believes a tougher approach to asylum seekers' right to work is a deterrent to small boat crossings
Labour believes a tougher approach to asylum seekers' right to work is a deterrent to small boat crossings - Chris J Ratcliffe/REUTERS

Labour has ditched plans to allow asylum seekers to work six months after reaching the UK after warnings that it could create a “pull factor” for illegal migrants to cross the Channel.

The party manifesto will stick with the current one-year time limit in line with the Tories after which asylum seekers can apply to work but only in shortage occupations.

The six-month right to work for asylum seekers was included in the party’s national policy forum and outlined by Stephen Kinnock, shadow immigration minister, in the Commons.

He said such a move could save the taxpayer millions of pounds paid out in weekly £40 subsistence allowances to thousands of asylum seekers who had been forced to wait for a decision on their claim because of Home Office “incompetence”.

“The Labour Party is clear that that period should be reduced to six months,” he told MPs in December 2022.

“It would not be appropriate for people to work straightaway on arrival, as those with clearly unfounded claims or who have come from safe countries should be swiftly returned.

“The asylum system is for those fleeing persecution and conflict; it is not an alternative to the normal immigration rules for those who are not.

“However, where people are in limbo for more than six months simply because of Home Office incompetence, there are real problems with expecting the British taxpayer to pay them about £40 in weekly earnings. That money and more could be being paid by employers, especially at a time of high job vacancy rates in Britain.”

Labour has, however, dropped the proposal to fight the general election on the same ground as the Tories, ensuring Britain will continue to have a more restrictive approach to asylum seekers’ rights to work than most other countries.

Germany allows asylum seekers to work after three months, Belgium four months, the United States six months and France and Spain six to nine months.

However, Labour believes the tougher approach is a deterrent in its efforts to stop the migrants on small boats crossing the Channel.

“We were getting feedback from different parts of the asylum system that the market for illegal working in Britain is a huge pull factor,” said a Labour source.

“The idea that you would make it a more positive place early when such high numbers of people are risking their lives crossing the Channel was not the right thing to do.”

Figures obtained by The Telegraph earlier this year revealed that nearly 16,000 asylum seekers, including those who crossed the Channel in small boats, have been allowed to work in a single year 12 months after their arrival.

If the same numbers applied after six months, that would amount to some £17 million that could be cut from the subsistence bill for asylum seekers – and could have been diverted from the taxpayer to other areas of government.

It comes ahead of Labour’s manifesto – due to be unveiled by Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday – in which it will pledge to clear the asylum backlog by expanding the number of caseworkers and through a new 1,000-strong enforcement and returns unit to deport failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals.

It will also include plans to tackle the small boats crisis by creating a border security command with powers to treat people smugglers like terrorists.

This would be supported by up to 1,000 additional officers recruited by MI5, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and police.

It would be paid for by £75 million a year that would have been spent on sending migrants to Rwanda. Sir Keir has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme from day one of a Labour government.