Asylum seekers left in limbo over access to work

Take note – story published 4 years ago

European Union countries received almost 600,000 requests for asylum over the last year, however LTV's De Facto investigative news show said October 20 it had uncovered a Catch-22 problem in Latvia's admissions process.

Latvian law dictates that if asylum seekers have been waiting for the decision regarding their refugee status for more than six months, they then receive the right to work. Yet the law does not grant them a personal identification number, which is where the problems begin.

“In all countries the most successful integration happens through employment. The faster you begin working, the faster you understand the rules of the game, values and principles in a country,” asserts Society Integration Foundation (SIF) Department of Projects Director Alda Sebre.

Lack of a personal identification number prevents asylum seekers who have been granted the right to work from opening a bank account. Although any employee theoretically has the right to request that their salary be paid in cash, SIF explains that this is extra work for employers, and not everyone is willing to oblige, particularly when efforts are being made to shrink the grey economy.

Other companies suggest registering as self-employed to solve the issue, but receiving a taxpayer identification number from the State Revenue service is impossible without a declared residence. In turn, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) refuses to accept a residency declaration without a personal identification number, leading to a vicious circle that effectively prevents asylum seekers working legally, no matter how much they might want to.

“You provide me with a paper, which says I have the right to work, but I can’t do anything with it. I’m not asking for handouts, I’m not asking for extra money from the government or special treatment. I just have a simple request - let me work, so that I can support myself,” says Abdulrahman Mamdooh.


He came to Latvia with his family from Iraq due to threats he had been receiving and has been waiting a year for the decision on his refugee status.

The Latvian government has been aware of this problem since 2016. Even then they understood that it’s difficult for foreigners to communicate with any official body without a personal identification number.

Two years ago Saeima passed a law about a new persons register, which would include asylum seekers and immediately provide them with a personal identification number. The law should originally have been ready to take effect next year, however it now looks likely to be postponed for yet another year, reported De Facto.

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