Asylum applications soar as waiting list reaches longest level on record

ITV News' Sarah Corker reports after the Home Office announced new plans to reduce the asylum backlog as new figures showed a record number are waiting for a decision

By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

The number of asylum seekers waiting for a decision on whether they can claim refuge in the UK is at its highest level since records began, and there are more people applying than at any time in almost two decades.

A huge 89,398 people applied for asylum in 2022, the latest Home Office figures show, more than double the number during the European migration crisis in 2016, but lower than 2002 when there was unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.

And a total of 160,919 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of December 2022, up 60% from 100,564 at the end of December 2021 and the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

The number of people waiting more than six months for an initial decision stood at 109,641 at the end of 2022, up 77% year-on-year from 61,864.

Which nationalities applied for UK asylum the most?

Albanians made up the highest number of asylum applications (14,223), with 9,573 of those being made by small boat arrivals. Males made up 83% of applicants.

Afghans were the second most common nationality applying for asylum last year, with 10,011 applications, more than six times the number in the pre-pandemic year of 2019 (1,573).

The Home Office said this rise was “likely due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan”.

Just 49% of applications made by Albanians were granted, compared with 98% for Afghans.

The rest of the top ten applying nationalities is as follows:

  • Iran

  • Iraq

  • Syria

  • Bangladesh

  • Eritrea

  • Sudan

  • India

  • Pakistan

Record numbers arrive on small boats

Small boat arrivals accounted for 45% of asylum applications in 2022.

Previously released figures already showed that small boat crossings in 2022 were higher than ever before, with 45,755 migrants arriving on UK shores from the English Channel - 60% higher than 2021.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping small boat crossings one of his top priorities but this year more than 2,500 have already succeeded despite winter weather conditions.

The number of small vessels arriving (1,109) in 2022 was only slightly higher than the 2021 figure of 1,034, but the number of people increased significantly.

In 2022, there was an average of 41 people per small boat. This has increased compared to 2021, when there was an average of 28 people per small boat and is much higher than 2020 (13 people per small boat), 2019 (11 people) and 2018 (7 people).

There was at least one small boat recorded arriving on 2 out of every 5 days in 2022.

Just 210 people who arrived on a small boat in 2022 had their asylum applications approved, out of 40,302 who applied. The grant rate was 62% because there were only 340 decisions made.

Out of the 83,236 who have arrived on small boats since records began in 2018, just 6,242 have had applications approved and 56,883 are awaiting a decision.

These numbers do not count anyone who arrives in the UK undetected.

Ukrainian arrivals

A huge 154,500 Ukrainians arrived in the UK in 2022 after being granted visas.

Two visa routes were set up after war broke out in February, one for people with family in Great Britain and another for those with UK sponsors.

Homes for Ukraine, as the sponsorship scheme was called, saw 110,300 Ukrainian people arrive to live in spare bedrooms and vacant homes all around the UK.

There were 44,200 arrivals through the family scheme.

Females made up the vast majority (67%) of granted visas, with many adult men staying in Ukraine to fight.

Other notable visa figures

Nearly 1.5 million visas were issued in 2022 to people coming to the UK for work, study or family reasons, or through one of the government’s settlement schemes.

Some 423,013 work visas were granted, along with 626,551 study visas and 48,107 family visas, plus 5,055 visas for dependants joining or accompanying others, according to Home Office figures.

In addition, 53,836 were granted to British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong.

Some 34,338 were under the EU Settlement Scheme, and 3,903 were under other settlement schemes.

The combined total of 1,405,709 visas in 2022 is up 64% from 858,869 in 2021 and is the sixth successive record high for a 12-month period since current figures began in 2005.

Detentions and deportations

There were 20,446 people placed in immigration detention in 2022, 16% fewer than in 2019, the most recent comparable figure due to the pandemic.

Albanians were the most common nationality entering detention in 2022, with 7,609 making up 37% of entrants, more than double pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (3,483).

By the end of December 2022, there were 1,159 people held in immigration detention.

In the year ending September 2022, there were 3,531 enforced returns, 51% fewer than in 2019 (7,198). 

The vast majority were foreign national offenders, with 2,958 of those deported.

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A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our immigration system allows the UK to provide refuge to those in need and last year, we welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to the UK following the brutal war in Ukraine and the evacuation of Afghanistan.

“At the same time, we continue to attract the high-skilled talent the UK needs to grow the economy and boost prosperity, including frontline health and care workers and those making vital contributions in medicine, engineering and science.

“The public rightly expects us to stop the boats and fix our asylum system. We are taking immediate action to tackle the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings, by speeding up returns and stepping up enforcement and we will bring forward new laws to restore fairness to our system and break the business model of the people smugglers who profit from putting lives at risk.”