The Right to Work of Asylum Seekers and Refugees


Publication by
COSTELLO, Cathryn; O’CINNÉIDE, Colm / May 2021

This working paper analyses the right to work to asylum seekers and refugees. Part I briefly sets the scene, with an account of the reality of work rights restrictions for asylum seekers’ and refugees. Part II analysis the right to work of asylum seekers and refugees, specifically examining the right under international human rights law of global and regional scope. Concerning the former, we examine the right under international human rights law of global scope, in particular under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. While that instrument is often perceived as being normatively weak, due in part to a misunderstanding about the ‘progressive realization’ standard, the chapter highlights States’ immediate ‘minimum core’ obligations under the right to work. We also assess the right under African, Inter-American, and European regional human rights mechanisms, and under EU law. Some deprivations of the right to work may entail breaches of regional treaties, directly or indirectly. Restrictions on the right to work may also contribute to violations of absolute rights, such as the prohibitions on inhuman and degrading treatment, or forced labour. Part III then looks
at the means of securing the right to work, namely through litigation (at domestic and regional levels) and transnational political processes.