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Asylum seeker volunteering legislation

Asylum seekers and volunteering

Since 2000 it has been Home Office policy that asylum seekers are allowed to volunteer and the April 2014 guidance attempts to further reinforce this positioin and states (p7):

"It is Home Office policy to support asylum seekers volunteering" - April 2014 Policy

There are no restrictions on asylum seekers Volunteering and all opportunities registered with the Volunteer Centre are legally classed as Volunteering. The Home Office defines Volunteering as follows:

Volunteering must not amount to unpaid work, or job substitution. In particular:

  • there should be no payment, other than reasonable travel and meals expenditure
  • actually incurred (not an allowance for the same);
  • there should be no contractual obligations on the volunteer;
  • the volunteer is helping a registered voluntary or charitable organisation (or organisation
  • that raises funds for either);
  • the volunteering is for a public sector organisation; and
  • the volunteering is not a substitute for employment (i.e. fulfilling a role that a salaried worker would normally fulfil).

Volunteering and Voluntary Work are legally very different!

Asylum seekers are not allowed to do Voluntary Work. Most peeple are unaware Volunteering and Voluntary Work are different. Many asylum seekers will say for example 'I'm doing voluntary work for a charity shop'. In the eye of the law they are volunteering, not doing voluntary work because the are freely choosing, without obligation or payment (except expenses) to help a charity.

The Home Office guidance explains:

"With Voluntary Work there is an obligation on the individual to perform the work, and in return an obligation on the organisation to provide it; and ... the individual is rewarded for that work, through money or benefits in kind."

This would be the case for a 12 month unpaid internship as there is an obligation to complete the full internship so an asylum seeker would not be able to do that, but can volunteer in any role advertised by the volunteer centre.

Template Letter for asylum seeker volunteers and guide

In May 2014 we received a number of reports from clients and professionals in Sheffield that asylum seekers are being told by Home Office staff that they are not allowed to volunteer. 

This is not correct information and promoted us to produce the following documents to help Home Office staff understand the sublte legal differences. These documents have been used by asylum seekers in Sheffield and staff have accepted them. 

Download Template letter to UKBA for asylum seeker volunteers

Difference between Voluntary Work and Volunteering Guide
Variation in how the policy is implemented

Due to the confusing nature of the policy and the wording, our experience has been that immigration officers implemment the policy with significant variation. Since our project started in 2004 we have seen many asylum seekers who have been told by officials that they are not allowed to volunteer and that this is a criminal offence. This has always been incorrent. In March 2009 South Yorkshire Immigration officers told an asylum seeker in detention that she was not allowed to volunteer and that she could be deported for volunteering which was a hugely traumatic experience. In 2014 when the rules changed we saw a number of people who were told that volunteering could lead to their case being rejected when they went to report at the immigration centre. 

In response to these instances we have been advocates for asylum seekers volunteering and this page is one method of getting the correct method out to people who are also working with asylum seekers. Please use the guides and the pro-forma letters and share this page with people who are working with asylum seeker volunteers.