Marie Oldfield, Pro Bono Economics & Refugee Council.
Over half the total applications for asylum the UK receives each year are initially rejected, yet nearly a third of these initial rejections are subsequently overturned on appeal. This process that fails to get decisions right first time imposes significant costs, not just on the applicants themselves, but also more widely on UK taxpayers. Asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare benefits nor employment except in some limited cases, and are often placed in unsuitable conditions with lack of appropriate support to prepare their case for asylum. These unfortunate circumstances mean that they are unable to gather and present all the required evidence first time, even when the case for asylum is legitimate. As a result, the application is rejected and thus begins a cycle of appeals that might eventually lead to a successful outcome for the asylum seeker but will, in the process, burden the taxpayer with unnecessary administrative cost and cause the asylum seeker needless distress and prevent them from accessing suitable economic opportunities. • Our study estimates that there are approximately 4,000 initial rejections that are successfully appealed each year and, with each appeal incurring direct administrative costs of around £1,000, the price tag of incorrect initial decisions adds up to a hefty £4 million per year in unnecessary administrative costs alone. • There are other costs, too, that negatively impact asylum seekers and taxpayers, albeit in a more indirect manner. The longer the appeals process is dragged out, the more delay there is to successful asylum seekers entering the labour market which means lost economic activity and forgone tax revenue for the Exchequer. Long periods of unemployment also result in skills attrition and lower the probability of the asylum seeker successfully entering the labour market in the future. • A lengthy appeals process heightens stress and worsens mental health in asylum seekers, a group arguably already more vulnerable on this front. Unnecessary human suffering aside, there is also a monetary cost borne by the taxpayer should NHS mental health services become involved. Thus, there is a pressing and viable case for providing asylum seekers a stable environment in which to complete their applications for asylum. This would increase the likelihood of reaching correct decisions in the first instance, avoid unnecessary administrative costs of an arduous appeals process, enable successful asylum seekers to access the labour market and contribute to the Exchequer, and avoid placing extra demands on already strained NHS mental health services.