Facts about new communities

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants. The information here will help to explain the difference.

Who’s who

Asylum seeker – someone who is fleeing persecution in their homeland and has applied for asylum.
Refugee – someone whose asylum application has been successful and so is allowed to stay in the UK, initially for 5 years.
Economic migrant – someone who comes to the UK to live and work.
Refugees and asylum seekers – frequently asked questions
What benefits are they entitled to?
Asylum seekers are not automatically allowed to work. Once they have waited 12 months for an initial decision on their case they can apply for permission to work.  Instead they have to rely on state support, which is about 30% less than for UK residents.  Asylum seekers would prefer to be able to work and support themselves - many were doing highly qualified jobs before they had to flee their home country.  Many do voluntary work while their asylum application is being processed.  Those who are given refugee status, which gives them the right to remain in the UK, are then allowed to work.
Do asylum seekers get preferential treatment for social housing?
The housing provided to asylum seekers is not part of the council housing system, so they are not living in property that could be allocated to someone on a housing waiting list.  The accommodation is funded by central government, and is nearly always let from private landlords.  
  • Asylum seeker – someone who is fleeing persecution in their homeland and has applied for asylum.
  • Refugee – someone whose asylum application has been successful and so is allowed to stay in the UK, initially for 5 years.
  • Economic migrant – someone who comes to the UK to live and work.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers – frequently asked questions

What benefits are they entitled to?

Asylum seekers are not automatically allowed to work. Once they have waited 12 months for an initial decision on their case they can apply for permission to work.  Instead they have to rely on state support, which is about 30% less than for UK residents. Asylum seekers would prefer to be able to work and support themselves - many were doing highly qualified jobs before they had to flee their home country. Many do voluntary work while their asylum application is being processed. Those who are given refugee status, which gives them the right to remain in the UK, are then allowed to work.

Do asylum seekers get preferential treatment for social housing?

The housing provided to asylum seekers is not part of the council housing system, so they are not living in property that could be allocated to someone on a housing waiting list.  The accommodation is funded by central government, and is nearly always let from private landlords.  Asylum seekers are not given a choice about where they live.  Those given refugee status have to leave this accommodation, often moving into property that they rent themselves.

Does Britain really take more asylum seekers and refugees than other countries?

Actually, the UK receives a very small proportion of the world's asylum seekers, less than 2%.  Over 70% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries with nearly one third of these in the 49 poorest countries in the world.  The vast majority of refugees end up in the Middle East and Africa.

Do asylum seekers get priority health care over local people?

Asylum seekers are entitled to register with a local GP and do receive most services from the NHS, but they must go through the same processes as everyone else.

Do asylum seekers ever go back to their own country?

Many asylum seekers do return to their home country once the reasons that forced them to flee no longer exist. Many have had to leave good jobs, a decent standard of living, and their families and communities. The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as circumstances permit, generally when a conflict has ended, a degree of stability has been restored and basic infrastructure has been rebuilt.  Some refugees cannot go home or are unwilling to do so, usually because they would face continued persecution.

Migrant Workers - frequently asked questions

Do they get any benefits?

Some Eu citizens are entitled to claim as long as they are working, or actively seeking work, and have a National Insurance number.  After a year of employment they may be eligible for certain state benefits; child benefits; tax credit; housing benefit and housing accommodation.

Are they entitled to get housing?

Migrants may go on the housing register if they have a National Insurance number, as they have the right to be in the UK.  However, they do not get any preferential treatment and their need is assessed in the same way as anyone else that applies, and will be placed on the waiting list accordingly.

Can they be treated by the NHS?

If migrants are intending to stay in the UK for 6 months or over, they have the right to register as a NHS patient with a doctor.  If they are not residents then they can be treated as private patients. 

Are they responsible for lots of crime?

It is more likely for migrants to become a victim of crime rather than commit it.  Some offences occur due to a lack of knowledge when people first arrive from abroad, e.g. motoring regulations.  Information is distributed to help to overcome this and to increase awareness of their rights and responsibilities here.  Anyone committing an offence is dealt with in the same way as a British citizen, they also risk being deported from the UK.

What about driving licences and insuring their cars?

People from the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) can use their national driving license for up to 12 months when they arrive.  If they intend to stay for longer than 12 months, they would need to exchange their license for a British one with the DVLA.  (There are different rules for drivers of lorries, agricultural vehicles and buses).  If the citizens have brought their car with them, they can insure the car in their home country, in the same way that British drivers insure their cars to drive in mainland Europe.