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Over 170,000 asylum seekers await a decision, but there is now a slowdown in rise of asylum backlog


Asylum backlog increased by less than 1% between March and June 2023

Date of Publication:
30 August 2023

As was widely reported by the media, the Home Office last week released its latest set of immigration statistics. The statistics cover the year ending June 2023 and they can be accessed from here.

Immigration stampImage credit: UK GovernmentMuch of the press coverage focused on the growing backlog of asylum seekers waiting for an initial decision on their claim.

The Home Office stated: "At the end of June 2023, there were 134,046 cases (relating to 175,457 people) awaiting an initial decision. This was over one-third (35%) more than the number of applications awaiting an initial decision at the end of June 2022 (99,419 applications, relating to 122,213 people). The number of cases awaiting an initial decision has increased over the last 10 years and more rapidly since 2018, when at the end of June that year there were 22,676 cases awaiting an initial decision."

The Home Office added, however, that the rate of growth of the backlog has now slowed. It noted: "The number of cases awaiting an initial decision has increased by less than 1% over the 3 months between the end of March and the end of June 2023, indicating a slowdown in the rise of the backlog."

According to the Home Office, this is in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions being made and an increase in the number of asylum decision makers.

In response to the release of the immigration statistics, both the Refugee Council and the Law Society issued statements criticising the growing backlog.

The Law Society called the scale of the backlog "staggering" and said the figures show the inefficiency and under resourcing of the asylum system.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, commented: "The record high asylum backlog is having a devastating impact on the people we work with, whose lives are put on hold indefinitely while they anxiously wait to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK."

Both groups also expressed concerns over the high number of asylum claims that are now being withdrawn, meaning the Home Office will no longer consider the claim and the claimant will not receive a decision.

The Home Office noted in its statistics: "As at the end of June 2023, of those who applied for asylum in 2022 (81,130 applications), 7% had received an initial decision. Of these 5,581 initial decisions, 3,542 applications were granted protection or another form of leave, resulting in a grant rate of 63%. 67,095 applications were still awaiting an initial decision (83%). 8,454 applications (10%) were withdrawn, of which 63% applications were from Albanians and 11% from Indians."

Enver Solomon said the Refugee Council was very concerned by the unprecedented number of asylum claims being withdrawn.

"The Home Office certainly shouldn't rely on asylum claims being withdrawn as a way of showing its backlog figures are going down. We must see an analysis of the reasons for this rapid increase in withdrawals and action to ensure that claims are only withdrawn in very specific circumstances," Solomon added.

The Law Society stated: "The government updated its guidance to expand the circumstances in which a claim will be considered withdrawn. If a case is withdrawn it means that the Home Office will no longer consider a claim or grant refugee status. It is not yet clear whether the increase in withdrawals is a result of the policy change and crucially, whether those affected are aware of these changes and the impact they can have on their claim being withdrawn."

Overall in the year ending June 2023, the Home Office statistics showed that there were 23,702 initial decisions made on asylum applications, 61% more than in the previous year and suggesting a return to pre-pandemic levels of decisions (20,766 decisions were made in 2019).

The total number of asylum applications in the year ending June 2023 was 78,768 (main applicants only), which is 19% more than in the year ending June 2022 and the highest number of applications for twenty years.

The Home Office noted: "The increase in asylum applications in the year ending June 2023 partially reflects an increase in small boat arrivals to the UK. In the year ending June 2023, 90% of small boat arrivals (40,386) claimed asylum or were recorded as a dependant on an asylum application. In total, just under half (41%) of the asylum applications raised in the year ending June 2023 were from people who arrived on a small boat."

Asylum appeals also increased, though the statistics were only available up to March 2023. There were 4,300 appeals lodged on initial decisions in the year ending March 2023, 15% more than in the year ending March 2022 and the first year-on-year increase since 2018.

In terms of immigration visas, a total of 538,887 work visas, including dependants, were granted in the year ending June 2023, an increase of 208,295 over the year ending June 2022. The total number of study visas granted, including dependants, reached 657,208, an increase of 165,968 over the same period last year.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has a helpful brief summary of the statistics here.