Access to the labour market

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/11/20


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Asylum seekers are not generally allowed to do paid work. The limited exception is that they may apply to the Home Office to be given permission to enter employment when their claim has been outstanding for a year.[1] The same applies when further submissions have been outstanding for a year, whether or not they have been recognised as a fresh claim.[2] If permission is granted it is limited to applying for vacancies in listed shortage occupations. These are specialist trades and professions which are in short supply in the UK and are defined very specifically (e.g. consultant in neuro-physiology, electricity subs-station electrical engineer). Self-employment is prohibited.[3]


A campaign was launched in 2018 to ‘lift the ban’ which refers to the above policy; the main campaign aims are for the government to reduce the waiting time to get permission to work to six months and to allow access to all vacancies, not those on the shortage occupation list. The campaign has many members from refugee and other sectors and has some parliamentary support, leading to debates, a short Bill and an amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill during 2019.[4]


The main obstacle is that since these occupations are so narrowly defined, the chances that an asylum seeker will qualify are quite low. The asylum seeker’s residence status does not change as a result of obtaining permission to work. They remain on bail and subject to conditions which may include residing at an address that they give. There is no special access to re-training to enable access to the labour market. Any vocational training is subject to the conditions for education set out in the section on Access to Education.

[1] Para 360 Immigration Rules Part 11 B.

[2] Court of Appeal, ZO (Somalia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2009] EWCA Civ 442.

[3]Para 360D Immigration Rules Part 11 B.

[4] Lift the ban coalition website: .


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection