Latest immigration statistics show asylum claims continue to increase, leading to record backlog of 130,000 cases
The Home Office today released its latest quarterly and annual immigration statistics, which can be accessed from here.
As the statistics show, last year saw asylum claims in the UK reach their highest level since 2002. Nearly 75,000 asylum claims were made by main applicants, which amounts to almost 90,000 people in total when including dependants.
The Home Office stated: "There were 74,751 asylum applications (relating to 89,398 people) in the UK in 2022. This is more than twice the number of applications in 2019 and the highest number for almost 2 decades."
While asylum seekers crossing the Channel via small boat made up a large percentage of claimants last year, they were not the majority and accounted for less then half of the overall total.
The Home Office explained: "The increase in applications in 2022 mirrors a substantial increase in small boat arrivals to the UK. In 2022, 90% of small boat arrivals (40,302) claimed asylum or were recorded as a dependant on an asylum application. In total, just under half (45%) of the asylum applications in 2022 were from people who arrived on a small boat."
Notably, Albania was the top country of origin for asylum claims in the UK in 2022, displacing Iran.
"In 2022 the UK received 14,223 asylum applications from Albanian nationals, 9,573 of which originated from small boat arrivals. While there was a rise in Albanian small boat arrivals and asylum applications over the summer months, these have reduced in more recent months, though they remain higher than levels seen in 2021. The majority of Albanian applicants in 2022 (83%) were adult males," the Home Office noted.
The remaining nine of the top ten countries of origin of asylum applicants in the UK in 2022 were, in order, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Sudan, India, and Pakistan.
Despite the increase in claims in the UK last year, the Home Office highlighted that the UK still receives fewer asylum seekers than a number of comparable European countries, including France: "In the year ending September 2022, Germany received the highest number of asylum applicants (296,555) in the EU+, followed by France (179,705) and Spain (128,015)."
Over 75% of the initial decisions made by the Home Office in 2022 resulted in grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave. The Home Office noted that this is the highest yearly grant rate in over 30 years. The UK's grant rate is also considerably higher than the average in the EU. Yesterday, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) reported that the grant rate in EU countries in 2022 was 40%.
The UK's backlog of asylum claims awaiting an initial decision continues to grow to record levels.
The Home Office said: "At the end of December 2022, there were 132,182 cases (relating to 160,919 people) awaiting an initial decision, over 3 times more than the number of applications awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2019 (40,032, relating to 51,228 people). The number of cases awaiting an initial decision has increased in the last 10 years and risen more rapidly since 2018, when there were 27,256 cases awaiting an initial decision at the end of that year."
Only 18,699 initial decisions were made by the Home Office last year: "In 2022, there were 18,699 initial decisions made on asylum applications. Although the number of decisions has increased by 29% in the last year, they remain 10% below numbers in 2019, before the pandemic."
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the figures showed the scale of the challenge the Government faces in its pledge to eliminate the asylum backlog.
Dr Peter Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory, commented: "While the number of people claiming asylum in the UK has increased over the past couple of years, other countries have routinely received similar or higher numbers of claims. But processing has been particularly slow in the UK. There's no single explanation for this, but reasons include low morale and high turnover among Home Office case workers, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and extra steps in the asylum process that the government added in early 2021."
The Migration Observatory has published a comprehensive briefing about the UK's asylum backlog available here.
News media reported that the Government has today started to streamline the processing of asylum claims for people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen, which are countries that have very high grant rates.
According to BBC News, around 12,000 asylum seekers who applied before July 2022 will be given a Home Office questionnaire to fill in rather than requiring face-to-face interviews.
The Guardian reported that the Home Office began sending out the 11-page document today in order to speed up the process by which claims are processed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomed the development, saying: "UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes the UK Home Office's announcement today that it will streamline the processing of certain manifestly well-founded claims for asylum. Removing the requirement for substantive interviews through the use of a questionnaire for asylum seekers from certain countries with very high grant rates should meaningfully reduce the current backlog of cases awaiting adjudication. Simultaneously, the procedure should uphold appropriate safeguards by maintaining individual interviews before any negative decisions are made."
The Guardian noted, however: "But the questionnaire, seen by the Guardian, asks more than 50 complicated questions that it says 'must be completed in English' and suggests using 'online translation tools' if necessary. It goes on to say that a failure to return the document within 20 working days 'may result in an individual's asylum claim being withdrawn'. The deadline has dismayed legal experts who say it places unreasonable demands on vulnerable people who will not be able to seek legal advice on time."
Wilsons Solicitors obtained a copy of what it believes to be the draft questionnaire. It is available to download via here. Wilsons says it is a complicated document and it is important that asylum seekers receive legal advice before completing it so they can understand the legal consequences of their answers.
The Home Office today published staff guidance for the new streamlined asylum processing for legacy (pre-28 June 2022) claims. You can access it here. It explains: "The streamlined asylum processing model is intended to be used for the processing of manifestly well-founded cases in the legacy caseload. Streamlined asylum processing will give decision-makers increased flexibility over the process of making asylum decisions in the interest of making the accurate and high-quality decisions as quickly as possible, for example without a personal interview where a positive decision can be taken based on the evidence available."