GIVING asylum seekers the right to work could boost Scotland’s economy by £30 million annually, according to the Scottish Government.

Research from the government’s Independent Expert Advisory group on Migration and Population found that enabling asylum seekers to gain employment could help fill gaps in the country’s workforce.

It may also result in more council tax being paid directly to local authorities which host asylum seekers as well as reducing the risk of exploitation.

While the power over allowing asylum seekers to gain employment sits with the UK Government, the report is set to inform the development of a Scottish Government proposal, which will be submitted to the Home Office for consideration in 2024.

The UK Government has insisted allowing asylum seekers who have been in the country for less than a year to work would “undermine” its wider economic migration policy “by enabling migrants to bypass work visa rules”.

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While the paper from the expert group says the UK policy regarding asylum seekers’ right to work is “highly restrictive,” it adds that “this has not always been the case”.

Currently, asylum seekers have to wait 12 months before applying to the Home Office for permission to work.

Even if accepted they may then only occupy roles on the Shortage Occupation list.

Allowing asylum seekers to work would bring Scotland in line with Australia, Canada, Germany and Sweden, who have less restrictive approaches to allowing asylum seekers to join the labour market.

With 5323 asylum seekers receiving support from local authorities in Scotland as of June 2023, the paper states granting them the right to work could add “£30m per year on average to the Scottish economy” if they were allowed to take up employment immediately after their arrival.

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The report accepts there are “considerable challenges and barriers to successful employment and integration which persist for asylum seekers even where less restrictive policies are in place,” but Migration Minister Emma Roddick said it also shows how allowing asylum seekers to work could reduce anxiety and improve their wellbeing.

She said: “Scotland provides a welcoming home to many people seeking asylum, with policies underpinned by dignity, respect and compassion.

“This independent report shows how enabling asylum seekers to find work could reduce anxiety and improve the wellbeing of vulnerable people, while supporting Scotland’s economy by helping fill skills shortages and addressing population challenges.

“As the UK Government continues to pursue repugnant policies on asylum and immigration, we are developing mitigations as far as possible within our devolved powers and budget, including through our New Scots refugee integration strategy.”

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While the minister said the Scottish Government would “use this report to design a proposal to work within the current devolution settlement,” she also insisted “only independence would give us power to implement a full Scottish asylum system rooted in respect for human rights”.

Rebecca Kay, chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, said its work “shows strong international evidence that strict restrictions on the right to work have negative consequences for asylum seekers’ material and emotional wellbeing, and for long-term integration outcomes”.

She added: “We also find substantial evidence of the considerable barriers which people seeking asylum are likely to face on entering the labour force.

“These will require careful consideration by Scottish Government, and deliberate remedy, when designing a pilot proposal.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Asylum seekers can take up jobs on the shortage occupation list if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more, through no fault of their own.

“Allowing asylum seekers the right to work sooner would undermine our wider economic migration policy by enabling migrants to bypass work visa rules.”