29 February 2024

Press release - Response to the government's latest statistics on the asylum backlog

Responding to the latest migration statistics published by the Home Office, Tom Cottam, Head of Policy for the British Red Cross, said:

“While today’s figures indicate some positive progress in reducing the legacy asylum backlog, they don’t tell the full story. There are now thousands of people stuck in indefinite limbo because the Illegal Migration Act prevents them from getting a decision on their claim. We are concerned about the human impact of this.

“We see the toll this is taking on people’s physical and mental health, as they’re often not allowed to work, and cannot find a proper home or be with their families. Meanwhile, they are reliant on asylum support for longer than is necessary at a cost to the taxpayer.

“Everyone seeking safety in the UK should be able to have their claim processed. The number of people stuck in an indefinite backlog will continue to grow unless the government sets out how people’s cases can be processed fairly and quickly.”


Notes to editor

At the end of December 2023, there were 98,599 asylum claims waiting for an initial decision. Of these, 55,533 asylum claims were made on or after 7 March 2023, when the Illegal Migration Bill was introduced to parliament.

This is 56 per cent of the total backlog. It is likely that a significant proportion of this backlog will be people who fall under the Illegal Migration Act and are unable to ever have their claim determined, forming part of an indefinite backlog. Source: statistics-relating-to-the-illegal-migration-act-data-tables-to-dec-2023.ods (live.com) table IMB_02

Over the course of 2023, the backlog of claims waiting for initial decisions has reduced by 36,930. In the same period, 24,027 asylum claims were withdrawn. Taking this into account, the backlog has reduced by 12,903 claims (a 10% reduction). There is no data on what has happened to the people whose claims have been withdrawn, including how many have had their claims reinstated subsequently. The British Red Cross knows from its work with people seeking asylum that people whose claims have been withdrawn are at risk of exploitation.

A graph produced by British Red Cross, based on analysis of Home Office data, shows how the backlog of cases since the Illegal Migration Bill was introduced is growing. View an interactive version of the chart.

Asylum backlog graph - resized

Types of backlog explained:

Legacy backlog: Applications made before 28 June 2022 are counted as 'legacy' cases, they are considered under the immigration rules and legislation which applied before 28 June 2022. The government pledged to process all of these cases by the end of 2023.

Nationality and Borders Act: Applications made on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023 are counted as ‘Nationality and Borders Act’ cases. Asylum claims in this category can be processed and receive decisions. However, many get stuck in the ‘inadmissibility process’. This means it’s been decided they can be sent to a ‘safe third country’, but in reality this is not possible unless there is a third country returns agreement in place.

Illegal Migration Bill: Applications made on or after 7 March 2023 and before 21 July 2023 are counted as ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ cases. People in this category, who arrived in the UK during this time without permission having travelled through a ‘safe third country’ on the way to the UK, cannot be granted refugee status. The Home Secretary can remove them from the UK, but is not obliged to do so.

People in this category can be granted another form of leave to remain if the Home Secretary considers failing to do so would be a breach of their human rights or there are other exceptional circumstances. The government has not published any guidance on what this leave could be.

Illegal Migration Act: Applications made after 20 July 2023 are counted as ‘Illegal Migration Act' cases. People in this category who arrived after this date without permission having travelled through a ‘safe third country’ on the way to the UK are in a similar situation to people in the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ category, except that there is a legal obligation to remove them from the UK. However, this has not been brought into force yet.

The Illegal Migration Act applies to people who have entered the UK without permission, having travelled through a third country where they were not at risk. This won't apply to everyone who has made a claim since 20 July, but we know that many people have crossed the Channel in this period and the Illegal Migration Act will apply to a lot of them.