The ‘door shut on employment opportunities’ – the experience of those seeking asylum in Scotland

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“People are quantified based on the immigration system and where you are slotted in. Those seeking asylum are at the bottom, there are the Lords, the Masters and the Slaves, no matter how they try and cover things up to make it seem attractive, until this serfdom that those seeking asylum face is taken away, nothing will change

-Panel Member


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In this blog we outline some information about the asylum system and hear from a Experts by Experience Panel member on the challenges that those seeking asylum face in securing employment in Scotland and their perspective on what needs to happen to help these vulnerable people.


A person seeking asylum is one that is awaiting the outcome of their application to be recognised as a refugee [1]. People seek asylum because they face persecution, which could be due to a range of reasons in the country they have come from. The Scottish Government, whilst recognising that asylum is reserved to the UK Government, have noted their role in providing key services such as education and health as well as welcoming those that may be moved to Scotland as part of the UK Government dispersal policy in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 Refugees and asylum seekers – (

[1] The UK is a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the status of Refugees 1951 and those recognised as a refugee have the right to access health, education, social security, housing and employment.


When it comes to Employment there are a number of issues that those seeking asylum have to contend with. In simple terms, those seeking asylum are largely unable to work  (although they can get special permission if they have been waiting for more than a year for a decision on their asylum claim). But even if they meet this criteria, then they are only able to work roles that are on the UK Visas and Immigration shortage occupation list. Newer legislation adopted by the UK government such as the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 has been described as a factor in increasing vulnerability and exploitation risks on top of existing deep concerns about the level of support that people seeking asylum receive, many having to survive on only £6.43 per day. Previous research noted people seeking asylum facing severe impacts on their mental health with reliance on the community and voluntary sector for basic needs, with nearly a quarter having suicidal thoughts. As well as the dehumanising impact on relying on charity or foodbanks for help, many services are unable to account for the varied needs, including cultural needs that individuals have, meaning many have to make do.

My Situation (from an Experts by Experience Panel member)

Picture of a lady with her right hand resting across her chest

In my own situation, I have not received a reply from the Home Office, despite requests for an update. This is part of a dehumanising and stigmatising process, where there is a lack of empathy and support to people in a similar situation. I am keen to support myself financially but am still waiting for my work permit.

Most Asylum seekers and friends are still waiting for work permits, even women with kids all waiting for Mr Home Office to decide our path out of poverty in the UK

When I receive my work permit, I am still not optimistic about the future as there are a number of restrictions in the types of employment that I can take up. I am only allowed to take up jobs in the so-called list of shortage jobs in the UK, despite whatever qualifications or expertise I may have. In attempts to try other college courses or discuss opportunities, there has been push back, that the best route for me as an ‘asylum seeker’ is health and social care.

There is a pretence and story out there, as ‘asylum seekers’, the only job possible is caring jobs. Most go to colleges to do health and social care. Colleges even say that because you are seeking asylum, this is the only option. No one goes into something else. If you try to aim for something else, then there is push back

What needs to happen?

I have made a few recommendations on how the Scottish Government can help those seeking asylum.

  • Ensure that there is respect in the system. The Scottish Government may see the current system as something imposed from Westminster. But they still have a duty to have policies that support those seeking asylum living in Scotland. More needs to be done to support vulnerable people.


  • People want consistency particularly to education opportunities, that are similar to what their friends may be doing. The Scottish Government should use all their powers to ensure there is not variance in the education opportunities that are offered to those seeking asylum.


  • The Scottish Government as well as advocating for an automatic right to work once an asylum claim passes a period of 12 weeks, should also use its publicly funded organisations to offer a guaranteed interview scheme for those seeking asylum. 



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