Access to the labour market

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 21/06/21


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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 although many medical and teaching occupations have recently been included. Self-employment is prohibited.[3] 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[4] and a refugee who was not[5] successfully challenged the fact that discretion to grant such permission had never been used; therefore the policy was declared unlawful. No change has yet been made.


A campaign was launched in 2018 to Lift the Ban[6] 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.[7]


Two legal judgments towards the end of 2020 ruled that the Home Office has the discretion to allow asylum seekers to work in any occupation.[8] One case involved an individual who had been trafficked.[9] The policy has not yet been changed.


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

[5]        Garden Court, Home Office work policy declared unlawful, C^ – judgment reported by legal team, 14 January 2021, available at:

[6]        See:

[7]        Lift the ban coalition website: .

[8]       CG v Secretary of State for the Home Department lawyers note and judgment available at:

[9]       LJ (Kosovo) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 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