Asylum is protection given by a country to someone fleeing from persecution in their own country. An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for asylum and is awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status.

An asylum applicant who does not qualify for refugee status may still be granted leave to remain in the UK for humanitarian or other reasons. An asylum seeker whose application is refused at initial decision may appeal the decision through an appeals process and, if successful, may be granted leave to remain.

Asylum applications

  • The annual number of asylum applications to the UK peaked in 2002 at 84,132. After that the number fell sharply to reach a twenty-year low point of 17,916 in 2010. It rose steadily throughout the 2010s, then sharply from 2021 onwards to reach 81,130 applications in 2022, the highest annual number since 2002.
  • The 81,130 applications made in 2022 related to 99,939 individuals (main applicants and dependents).
  • The Covid-19 pandemic reduced the number of asylum seekers arriving by air routes in 2020 and 2021. However, during this time the number of people arriving in small boats across the Channel (most of whom applied for asylum) rose substantially. The number of small boat arrivals rose again in 2022 despite the re-opening of other travel routes.

Proportion of all migrants who are asylum seekers and refugees

  • Asylum seekers made up around 6% of immigrants to the UK in 2019.
  • In 2020, when overall immigration was lower than usual due to the pandemic, asylum seekers might have made up around 12% of immigrants.
  • In 2022, the latest period for which we have estimates, asylum seekers and refugees made up approximately 21% of immigrants to the UK. This includes arrivals under the Ukraine schemes, the Afghan relocation and resettlement schemes, arrivals in small boats, other resettled persons and arrivals on family reunion visas (around 264,000 individuals in total). If including the British National (Overseas) scheme in the category of humanitarian routes, up to 26% of immigration in that year would fall into that category.

Decisions and refusals

  • The percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its highest point at 88% in 2004. Since then, the refusal rate has been falling overall and was at 24% in 2022, its lowest point since 1990.
  • Between 2004 to 2021, around three-quarters of applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal and almost one third of those appeals were allowed.

Asylum caseload

  • As of June 2023, the total ‘work in progress’ asylum caseload consisted of 215,500 cases. Of these, 138,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision, 5,100 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal, and approximately 41,200 cases were subject to removal action.
  • The total asylum caseload has more than doubled in size since 2014, driven both by applicants waiting longer for an initial decision and a growth in the number of people subject to removal action following a negative decision.

Nationality of asylum seekers and refugees

  • In 2021, 42% of applicants were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, and 23% were nationals of African countries. This pattern shifted in 2022 with the largest nationality groups being Asian countries (32% of applicants) and European countries (25% of applicants).
  • Between 2014 and June 2023, 51,000 people were resettled or relocated to the UK through various schemes. Between 2014 and 2020, 20,000 Syrians were resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Since 2021, 21,500 people from Afghanistan were resettled or relocated to the UK through various schemes.
  • In 2022, two new routes were introduced for Ukrainians. As of the end of June 2023, around 179,000 people had arrived under these schemes. This flow was much larger in scale than any other single forced migration flow to the UK in recent history. The number of Ukrainian refugees who arrived in the UK in 2022 was equivalent to the number of people granted refuge in the UK from all origins, in total, between 2014 and 2021.

European context

  • In 2022, there were around 13 asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU27 there were 22 asylum applications for every 10,000 people. The UK was therefore below the average among EU countries for asylum applications per head of population, ranking 19th among EU27 countries plus the UK on this measure.

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