Skills being wasted by not allowing asylum seekers to work


Media Release

Tuesday 14 July 2009

New evidence shows extent of skills being wasted by not allowing
asylum seekers to work

New research today reveals the range of skills the UK is losing by denying the vast majority of asylum seekers entitlement to work.

The study was carried out by Scottish Refugee Council’s partner organisation Refugee Council, along with the Zimbabwe Association and focuses on the Zimbabwean community in the UK. It uncovers the range of professions and training among Zimbabweans who are currently in the UK, but who are prevented from working by the UK government.

Since 2002, almost all asylum seekers in the UK have been prevented from working.  As a result, those who have waited many years for a decision on their claim, or who have been turned down but are unable to go back because their country remains unsafe, have been forced to rely on minimal state support or left destitute.

The study focuses on the Zimbabwean community, many of whom have been in the UK for several years, either waiting for a decision, or unable to return due to fears for their safety. But many findings of the research also apply to people from other nationalities, who want to contribute their skills and experiences to the UK.

The survey of 292 Zimbabweans showed:


64% are educated to GCSE level and beyond

Only THREE were unemployed at home

45 are qualified teachers or lecturers (15% - the highest proportion)

Other occupations varied widely – from town planners, surveyors and transport managers to engineers, mechanics and IT specialists

63% said they would like to return to Zimbabwe when it is safe to do so

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“This study shows that denying those who want to work the opportunity to do so is an appalling waste of skills, and indeed of money. 

“The people who responded to our survey are a snapshot of a bigger picture.  Most people who claim asylum in Britain do not expect to live off the state while they wait for a decision; if they are able, they want to work and start paying their way straight away.  It is daft that we do not let them. 

“Asylum seekers come to the UK for safety, to be free from torture and persecution.  They do not expect our generosity to extend further than a safe place to live.  Yet we force them to survive on little or nothing, with more and more of them left destitute as they are unable to return home.  In a recession, it does not make sense to prevent people who are willing and able to work from doing so.”

Simon Hodgson, Director of Policy and Communications at Scottish Refugee Council said:

“The Refugee Council survey findings are as relevant in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK.  We continue to hear from people who are negotiating the asylum process how demeaning and frustrating it is being denied the right to work for a living. 

“We fully support campaigns such as Let Them Work and continue to push the UK government to change their position on this issue.

Sophia Kaseke, 56, was granted leave to remain in the UK this week after years going through the asylum process:

“I am trained as a counsellor, and when I was in Zimbabwe I worked with women and children who had been abused, as well as with people with addictions. I have lots of skills that I have not been able to use here.

“It was very difficult not being allowed to work – financially, mentally and spiritually. Now I have status as a refugee being able to work will help me a lot.”


Notes to editor:


1.  The research will be launched on Tuesday 14 July at the House of Commons, Committee Room 5. 


2.  The report is available ahead of the launch under embargo.  For a copy, please contact Clare Harris/ Karin Goodwin, 0141 223 7927,


3. Interviews are available with Simon Hodgson and Sophia Kaseke. Please contact Clare Harris/ Karin Goodwin, 0141 223 7927,


4. Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity dedicated to providing advice, information and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees living in Scotland. It shares its aims with its counterparts across the UK, Refugee Council and Welsh Refugee Council. For more details go to