‘I Feel Like a Beggar’: Asylum Seekers Living in the Australian Community Without the Right to Work


While numbers of asylum seekers received by Australia are small compared to global figures, a range of deterrence measures have been implemented in response to increasing numbers arriving by boat in recent years. One of the more recent measures was denying asylum seekers who arrived by boat after 13 August 2012 the right to work upon their release from immigration detention into the community. There are around 26,000 asylum seekers who have been subject to this policy with most still waiting for their initial interview for refugee status and none have had their refugee claims resolved. This paper examines the findings of a study that explored the implications of this policy for asylum seekers. It draws on 29 semi-structured interviews with asylum seekers and highlights the distress and fear that many are enduring, caused by the denial of the right to work and ongoing uncertainty about their refugee claims. The study’s findings provide support for the conclusions of earlier research that highlight the importance of the right to work and securing employment for the mental health of asylum seekers, as well as studies that found there were negative mental health consequences of forcing asylum seekers to live for long periods with uncertainty around their protection claims.

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    These questions were based on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recommended basic reception standards for asylum seekers (UNHCR 2000).


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We would like to acknowledge the men and women interviewed for this research and thank them for their willingness to share their experiences with us. This research was funded by the Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute and the Centre for Sport and Recreation Research at Curtin University and a Curtin Humanities Publication Grant.

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Correspondence to Caroline Fleay.

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Fleay, C., Hartley, L. ‘I Feel Like a Beggar’: Asylum Seekers Living in the Australian Community Without the Right to Work. Int. Migration & Integration 17, 1031–1048 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-015-0453-x

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  • Asylum seekers
  • Right to work
  • Living in the community
  • Australia