The Scottish Conservatives want the UK Government to look into relaxing the rules for asylum seekers looking for work in Britain.
Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne argued those seeking refuge should be given the opportunity to make “a meaningful contribution”, and has written to the Home Secretary on the issue.
At present, asylum seekers are only allowed to work if they have waited for over a year for a decision on their claim and are able to fill a role on the UK’s official shortage occupation list.
Ms Ballantyne told MSPs: “During the time that it takes to go through the process of seeking asylum, which can be years, we need to ensure that we don’t put people’s lives on hold, and we don’t waste the skills that people have or prevent them from developing as people.
“If we don’t ensure that asylum seekers have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their own lives, as well as their host nation, we do everyone a disservice.
“And it is for this reason that I feel the UK Government should investigate relaxing the rules for asylum seekers looking for work in the UK.
“While I appreciate that asylum seekers can currently engage in voluntary work, if we really want to ensure that individuals are able to prosper both here, and should they ever wish to return to their countries, the prospect of employment is essential.”
Tory MSP Jamie Greene said Ms Ballantyne’s view was shared across the party.
“I can confirm that these benches do believe there is merit in the idea of allowing those waiting for their case to be heard to be given further employment opportunity,” he said.
The Scottish Tories spoke out during a debate on supporting asylum seekers at Holyrood.
MSPs from other parties were critical of the current system, which they said can leave people destitute or homeless at the end of the asylum process.
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said the Scottish Government’s key principle was one of “integration from day one”.
“This means that people should be welcomed and supported to integrate from day one not just when refugee status and leave to remain have been granted,” she said.
“People seeking asylum have to navigate a complex and often frustrating system sometimes over many years before they receive refugee status and are able to get on with their lives.
“That is often at great cost to their mental health and future prospects.”
Labour’s Pauline McNeill welcomed Tory calls to relax the rules on work, but she said current Home Office policy was leaving some asylum seekers destitute.
“Forced destitution of asylum seekers is never an acceptable policy if you believe in a humane system for asylum seekers and refugees,” she said.
Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “I well recall the wave of opposition to dawn raids back in the early years of Glasgow’s participation in the dispersal program – communities would barricade their neighbours into their flats rather than allowing Home Office agencies to kick in doors, tear children from parents arms and drag people off to detention.
“What should be a system designed to ensure safety and refuge to all those who need it, is in fact a system designed to say no to the maximum number of people possible.”