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Applying social work law to asylum and immigration
Applying social work law to asylum and immigration

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7 The social work role

The greater part of service provision for people with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers and refugees has come from the voluntary and independent sector and faith organisations, many of which employ qualified social workers. Later in this section you will hear about the work of two voluntary sector organisations – Embrace Life, Luton, and Southall Black Sisters.

Social worker with a pen and paper sitting at a table and talking to a young man who is looking down.
Figure 4 A social worker with a service user

The obligations of statutory social work in this area of social policy remain a source of some confusion and controversy. Hayes (2013) suggests that working in this field presents ethical dilemmas and social workers can find themselves enmeshed within a system of draconian immigration controls.

A 2017 study found that social workers within both the statutory and voluntary sector try to implement social work values and use their discretion on behalf of their clients in the face of a hostile immigration policy and resource constraints (Robinson and Masocha, 2017).

A broad understanding of the law and of appropriate legal rights is important. Chantler (2012) also suggests that social work leadership is needed at a higher level: respond more effectively in this complex area of work, interventions at a practitioner, organisational and societal level are required if the espoused values of social work are to be more than mere rhetoric.

(Chantler, 2012, p. 331)

The dispersal policy, whereby asylum seekers and refugees are offered a no-choice, one offer of accommodation has established new asylum communities in cities around the UK. Social work responses to this have been mixed (Hayes, 2013) but all local authorities have an obligation to provide services to asylum seekers and refugees; as well as building expertise in specialist teams, this should also be seen as part of mainstream practice, rather than as a niche area (SCIE, 2010).

If asylum seekers are not eligible for social care services, they should be assessed under the Human Rights Act 1998 to establish whether a failure to provide appropriate services would be a breach of their human rights. For ‘refused’ asylum seekers, detailed practice guidance on assessing and supporting children, families and adults is available from the NRPF Network [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website.

It should now be obvious why this is a challenging area of social work practice. The legal provisions are complex – how do you exclude the effects of destitution from assessed needs? They are also difficult to reconcile with social work values and principles – should social workers be turning away those in obvious need and policing immigration controls?