Two amendments to the Immigration Bill were proposed in the House of Lords on 9 March 2016 and passed with Liberal Democrat, Labour and Crossbench support despite opposition from the Government.
Amendment 57 was a proposal to make the Secretary of State grant permission to work to asylum applicants whose applications have not been decided within 6 months. The amendment received widespread support from local governments, religious organizations and NGOs.The proposal was intended to stop asylum seekers having to ‘eke out a pitiful existence on a monetary subvention by the state’. At present, regardless of the merits of their claim, those seeking asylum will usually have to rely on state assistance. Only applicants who can support themselves through savings, or who have waited more than a year for a decision on their claim and can work in a shortage occupation, can be self-sufficient. Despite the right-wing press reporting that applicant’s are ‘showered with benefits’, payments to those waiting for a decision on their asylum claim amount to only £36.95 a week, in addition to housing and healthcare. The Government’s main opposition to the amendment was that it would incentivize bogus asylum seekers who would use the route to work. However, if the government decides claims correctly within 6 months then, even with this amendment, only genuine refugees will have the opportunity to work in the UK. Those supporting the amendment also pointed out that where was no evidence that having the right to work whilst a claim was under consideration influenced where refugees chose to seek protection.
Amendment 58 was a proposal to allow overseas domestic workers to stay in the UK for a minimum of 2 ½ years and to let them change employers. The amendment was tabled to help prevent modern slavery and abuse of domestic workers. A statement of changes, announced just two days after the amendment passed, stated that in response to the independent review of the overseas domestic worker visa undertaken by James Ewins QC the Immigration Rules would change. Domestic workers will be allowed to switch employers and those who had been found to be a victim of slavery or human trafficking could be granted leave for two years. These changes will come into force on 6 April 2016 but will not be enough to satisfy the provisions of the amended bill.
The political discourse surrounding immigration has stifled much sensible debate in the House of Commons. The government defeats in the Lords and the insertion of common sense and humane amendments into the Immigration Bill shows its importance in ensuring that a more balanced approach is taken in the sphere.