Access to the labour market

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/05/23


Refugee Council Visit Website

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. Revised policy guidance was published in May 2021 and remains substantially the same in a 2022 version.[6]

A campaign was launched in 2018 to Lift the Ban[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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. [10]  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] R(C6) v Home Office, available at:

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

[7] See: Refugee Action website

[8] Lift the ban coalition website:

[9] Migration Advisory Committee second annual report, available at:

[10] Boost for the care sector government announcement 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