4c. The right to work

I was granted [leave to remain], now I’m happy, I know that I can get a job, I can work and do whatever I want…it was one year since I got it, 2007…I applied for the care assistant [job]…I’m still waiting, but I know that I will [get a job], because I don’t get enough money for me and my son, so I don’t want to be…on benefits, I want to work (refugee woman, arrived in Britain in 2002)

The vast majority of refugees without status have been prohibited from taking paid work since 2002. In the accounts of refugees I interviewed, the experience of being a refugee, particularly one who has not been granted some form of ‘leave to remain’ by the state, was strongly characterised by insecurity and dependency on the state, which was enforced by the prohibition on paid work:

‘the asylum seeker is limited, he’s not allowed to work…his income is very low, and he doesn’t know the outcome of his decision, so any time he can be deported or can be accepted, so he is in limbo’ (arrived 2002)

This insecurity, and the legal restrictions on many kinds of action which might have improved their situation, contributed to an intense sense of dependency:

‘I’ve always been independent…but now it’s as if I’m in prison…there’s nothing that proves that I’m an adult, I am just at home, just wait[ing] for somebody to give [things to me]’ (Cameroon, arrived 2008)

For many refugees without status, the combination of a prohibition on paid work and at best poverty-level benefits creates pressure to work illegally as the only option for survival, which both leaves them open to exploitation and increases their vulnerability to the state, as they thereby become classified as ‘foreign criminals’ and liable to deportation on that basis. By coming to Britain under imperatives other than the labour market, refugees have broken discipline with the reserve army of labour. Asylum policies thus combine to disempower refugees and enforce their dependency on the British state, which weakens their resistance to accepting the discipline of the reserve army of labour by giving up their rights-based demand for asylum. This both keeps them in an oppressed position, and manages this situation by enforcing compliance with the terms of their oppression. The British state carries this out in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, even when this involves fines and other sanctions against individual capitalists when they employ migrants who are prohibited from paid work.

NEXT: The asylum decision making process

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