Asylum and Migration: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an Asylum Seeker, a Refugee and an Economic Migrant?

Refugee: In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government.

Asylum Seeker: A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded. In order to apply for asylum a person must prove that he/she has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to their country of origin.

Refused Asylum Seeker: A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers voluntarily return home, others are forcibly returned and for some it is not safe or practical for them to return until conditions in their country change.

Migrant: There are lots of different types of migrants. Simply, a migrant is someone who moves from one place to another in order to live in another country for more than a year.

EEA Migrant: A person from within the European Economic Area who has moved in order to seek work.

 Can asylum seekers and refugees work in the UK?

Asylum Seekers: 

As a general rule, Asylum Seekers are not allow to work.

However, they can apply for permission to work, but only if:

  • they have waited for over 12 months for an initial decision on their asylum claim, or they have been refused asylum but have not received a response to further submissions submitted over 12 months ago; and
  • they are not considered responsible for the delay in decision-making.

Permission to work only allows asylum seekers to take up jobs on the UK’s official shortage occupation list. It expires once the asylum claim has been finally determined (i.e. when all appeal rights are exhausted).


Asylum Seekers granted Refugee status (permission to remain in the UK) are eligible to work.

Are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants entitled to claim welfare benefits? 

Asylum Seekers  are not eligible for mainstream welfare benefits. They are entitled to somewhere to live, this could be in a flat, house, hostel or bed and breakfast, occasionally they can be placed in a detention centre run by HM Prison Service, They are not entitled to choose where they live. They also receive £36.95 per week (to be collected from the post office) for each person in their household to purchase food, clothing and toiletries.

Refused Asylum Seekers who have no further appeal rights may be entitled to access ‘section 4 support’ if they are likely to become destitute within 14 days. However there are strict conditions you must fulfil.  Find out more about Section 4 support here. Charities such as the Boaz Trust provide support for destitute asylum seekers.

How easy is it to claim asylum in the UK?

The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and complex. It is very difficult to get asylum. The decision-making process is extremely tough and many people’s claims are rejected. The process can often last years, especially if you appeal against a decision or there are legal complications. To find out more about how the UK’s Asylum process works, click here.


Please note, definitions given on this page are not legal definitions but are is intended as a basic explanation of terms used across the refugee sector.

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