Legacy backlog cleared as plan to stop the boats delivers
The legacy asylum backlog target has been met with more than 112,000 asylum cases cleared in 2023 and small boat crossing arrivals down by 36%
The Prime Minister’s commitment of clearing the legacy asylum backlog has been delivered, with 112,000 asylum cases being processed in the past year.
Ending the legacy asylum backlog, a pivotal step in the government’s pledge to stop the boats, comes as end-of-year statistics show small boat crossings were down by 36% in 2023. In recent months, crossings have fallen even more sharply – by 45% in the second half of the year and 64% in the final quarter of 2023, against equivalent periods in 2022. This is despite sea crossings into Europe surging by 80% in 2023.
In December 2022, the Prime Minister pledged to tackle the remaining legacy asylum backlog – which had more than 92,000 cases of individuals who claimed asylum before 28 June 2022, which were still waiting for an initial decision.
Fundamental changes to the decision-making process and boosting efficiency has resulted in 112,000 asylum decisions this year, and the highest annual number of substantive decisions in a year since 2002.
The government stepped up processing, deploying an additional 1,200 caseworkers, meeting our target to double the number of asylum caseworkers and tripling productivity to ensure more illegal migrants are returned to their country of origin, quicker.
The increased efficiency has seen the Home Office not just clear the original 92,000 legacy asylum backlog, but exceed it, processing 112,000 cases.
All cases in the legacy backlog have now been reviewed, with 86,800 decisions made. In one 4-week period from 20 November to 17 December 2023, there were 20,481 initial asylum decisions made, this is more than the number of asylum decisions made in the entirety of 2021.
When the Prime Minister set out his ambition to cut the backlog, he made clear it could not be cleared at the expense of thorough security and background checks. This has meant that, despite the surge in decision-making, the grant rate for asylum decisions in 2023 is at 67%, lower than in both 2022 and 2021, which were 76% and 72% respectively.
While all cases have been reviewed and 112,000 decisions made overall, 4,500 complex cases have been highlighted that require additional checks or investigation for a final decision to be made. These hard cases typically relate to asylum seekers presenting as children – where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions, where checks may reveal criminality that would bar asylum.
The robust action taken by the government to disrupt and deter small boat gangs and people smugglers has seen the UK defy trends across Europe, and large parts of the world, by having fewer small boat arrivals than the previous year, while sea crossings to Europe are up 80%.
As well as individuals arriving by small boats dropping by 36%, there has also been a 46% decrease in the number of vessels crossing the Channel, demonstrating the success of operations to disrupt the supply of boats and engines.
Further action by the government in 2023 includes:
- returning more than 24,000 people who have no right to be in the UK, including more than 5,500 Albanians, some of whom were removed within 48 hours of illegally arriving by small boat
- a surge in enforcement visits, with 10,509 in the first 9 months of 2023 compared to 6,865 in same period in 2022 and 5,576 people arrested linked to these compared to 2,175 in the previous year – including illegal working, overstaying, facilitating illegal entry and entering illegally
- a 68% increase in illegal working visits
- 246 arrests of people smugglers
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
"I am determined to end the burden of illegal migration on the British people. That is why we have taken action to stop the boats, return hotels to their local communities, and deter those wanting to come here illegally from doing so.
"By clearing the legacy asylum backlog, deciding more than 112,000 cases, we are saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in expensive hotel costs, reducing strain on public services and ensuring the most vulnerable receive the right support.
"But we cannot be complacent, which is why I am focused on delivering on my commitment to stop the boats and get flights off the ground to Rwanda."
Home Secretary James Cleverly said:
"While illegal entries across Europe are going up, the number of people coming into the UK illegally is going down. This is a significant achievement, but the job is far from over.
"I will continue to do everything possible to stop the boats. No people smuggler will be safe, we will work with law enforcement partners and governments across the world who want to tackle this threat and ensure that British taxpayer money is not wasted on people trying to abuse our generosity."
The UK will continue to work with international partners to tackle illegal migration. In 2023, we signed new agreements with countries including France, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Georgia and Ethiopia.
The government will progress its Safety of Rwanda Bill through Parliament, which will enable Parliament to make clear Rwanda is a safe country, address the conclusions of the Supreme Court in November and allow flights to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda to start.
The UK continues to urge genuine asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and the government will continue to target, disrupt and dismantle people smuggling gangs, who continue to lure vulnerable people to undertaking the deadly journey across the Channel.
We will be going further this year in targeting the people smugglers and breaking their business model through leveraging international cooperation and innovative disruption tactics.