Access to the labour market

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 10/07/24


Sonia Lenegan

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 asylum claim has been outstanding for a year since the date the claim was lodged.[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] Applications are very straightforward, they must be made in writing giving the applicant’s personal and contact details and a statement requesting permission to work.[3] There is no time limit for the Home Office to make a decision and this can take months.

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 although many medical and teaching occupations have recently been included.[4] Self-employment is prohibited.[5] The lack of discretion in the policy allowing the Home Office to grant permission to take up employment not on the shortage occupation list was challenged successfully at the end of 2020. Two cases, one specifically relating to a refugee who was also a victim of trafficking[6] and a refugee who was not[7] successfully challenged the fact that discretion to grant such permission had never been used; therefore, the policy was declared unlawful. Revised policy guidance was published and includes provision for the application of discretion to be used, although it states that these grants are expected to be ‘rare’.[8]

A campaign was launched in 2018 to Lift the Ban[9] 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.[10] At the end of 2021 the Migration Advisory Committee, in its annual report, questioned the need for the policy restricting asylum seekers to the Shortage Occupation list.[11] No changes have been made to that, although the Shortage Occupation List is to be replaced in 2024, and this is likely to reduce the number of roles that asylum seekers are permitted to work in.[12]

The main obstacle is that since these occupations are so narrowly defined, the chances that an asylum seeker will qualify are quite low, although the government has now added care workers to the list.[13] 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] Supreme Court, ZO (Somalia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 36.

[3] Home Office, Permission to work: caseworker guidance, 26 January 2024, available at:

[4] Immigration Rules, Appendix Shortage Occupation List, available at:

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

[6] High Court, LJ (Kosovo), R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] EWHC 3487 (Admin) (18 December 2020), available at:

[7] Upper Tribunal, R(C6) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (asylum seekers’ permission to work) [2021] UKUT 94 (13 January 2021), available at:

[8] Home Office, Permission to work and volunteering for asylum seekers, October 2022, available at:

[9] See: Refugee Action website, available at:

[10] Lift the ban coalition website:

[11] Migration Advisory Committee, Second annual report, December 2021, available at:


[13] Government, ‘Biggest visa boost for social care as Health and Care Visa scheme expanded’ December 2021, available at:

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