Work and amnesty are answer to asylum disarray

Asylum seekers should be allowed to work, while an amnesty would clear the backlog and remove a pote

Thousands of asylum seekers have been forced into destitution across the UK, living on handouts from churches and charities due to an inhumane government policy.

The level of suffering being incurred was revealed at the hearings of the Citizens Organising Foundation sponsored Independent Asylum Commission that has recently been taking evidence in Manchester.
According to the National Audit Office there are between 155,000 and 283,500 rejected asylum seekers awaiting deportation from the country.

Reacting to right wing tabloid newspaper headlines, ministers ruled some years ago that once asylum seekers exhausted the appeal process or lacked the resources to go any further (onto appeal) all support should be removed.

The result has seen thousands turning to churches and charities for support to keep them from destitution. The Red Cross works in a number of cities, including Manchester, handing out food parcels to many of these desperate individuals.

The answer surely must be to allow asylum seekers to work while in the country and for there to be a regularisation (amnesty) of undocumented workers granted to clear the backlog.

A growing number of individuals and organisations have been calling for asylum seekers to be allowed to work or receive benefits for the duration of their stay in this country. Such a policy would make perfect sense, as, if asylum seekers were working, not only would they be contributing to the economy but the immigration services could keep tabs on exactly where they were. The present policy literally forces desperate individuals to disappear into the black economy in order to survive.

Allowing asylum seekers to work provides the added bonus that many send money home to support their families. This has been found to be one of the most effective ways of providing aid to developing countries.

Other plus points of such a policy would be the additional taxes that the asylum seekers would provide to the exchequer. It is also important to remember that many of those making it as far as these shores are among the more educated and capable in their populations. So they can often be skilled people like doctors, nurses and teachers, who with the requisite training could fill skills shortages in this country.

There does now appear to be growing popular support amongst the public for allowing asylum seekers to work for the duration of their stay in the country, with a poll conducted by ORB for the Citizens Organising Foundation finding that 66 per cent supporting the notion.

Among the growing number of voices calling for this right to work to be granted have been the Refugee Council and Amnesty International.

There is also a growing movement of people that support a regularisation of undocumented workers, as opposed to seeking deportation. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants points out that at the present rate of 20,000 removals a year, it would take a quarter of a century to clear the backlog. And as the Institute for Public Policy Research highlights, the cost of such an enterprise, at £11,000 per deportation, would run to some £4.7 billion.

This blinkered approach of government is having other repercussions across London and beyond. Labour MP for Dagenham Jon Cruddas has pointed out how undocumented workers are drawn to areas of low cost housing like his own. Given that no one knows how many there are, or where they are, this means there is a lack of public provision for services.

Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) underlined the extent of the problem, quoting the example of Slough, where national data showed 300 migrants in residence, while National Insurance Number registrations revealed the true figure to be nearer 9,000.

A growing number of churches, trade unions and employers are calling on the government to reverse the present policy and move to a regularisation for undocumented migrants who have lived and worked in the UK for a sustained period.

The economic argument makes sense with the IPPR claiming that there could be an annual benefit of £1 billion to the exchequer in terms of taxes collected from the newly created citizens. This compares to a £4.7 billion cost for deporting the same number of people.

Trade union support is born from a concern of unscrupulous employers using undocumented workers to undercut those already on low levels of pay in the UK. "Migrant workers need to join a union so that they can avoid being exploited themselves or being used to undercut those already on low rates of pay," said Pauline Doyle of the Transport & General Workers Union.

The T&G together with the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Catholic Church leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor and Jon Cruddas are among those supporting the Strangers into Citizens campaign run by the community based Citizens Organising Foundation (COF).

The campaign calls for a regularisation for workers who have been in the country for four years, contributed to society and not been in trouble with the law. "The Government cannot continue to sit on the fence and must move to regularise these undocumented workers," said Neil Jameson of COF.

"There are more than 500,000 undocumented workers in the Britain who want to work and pay taxes. It would make economic and moral sense to allow them to do this by having a regularisation."

The call for regularisation is also supported by employers. The trade association for cleaning companies the Cleaning Services Support Association has recently backed the Strangers into Citizens campaign. "We have been hugely effected by undocumented and illegal working.

There have been lengthy discussions with the Home Office but the present rules are completely unworkable," said Andrew Large, the secretary general of the CSSA. "A regularisation is the best way of dealing with undocumented workers in the UK.

The government's idea of mass deportation is just not practical. We must find a way of integrating these people, otherwise the conditions are being created for an exploitable underclass."

A number of moves need to be made if the present asylum crisis is to be resolved. Once in the country, asylum seekers need to be allowed to work. In addition, there should be a regularisation of undocumented workers for the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who remain in a state of limbo here.

An amnesty would clear the backlog and remove a potential source of exploitable labour. These are all simple moves that could easily be undertaken to bring about a more humane system for all concerned. A new start needs to be made.

Paul Donovan writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.