Home / press /

Asylum backlog hits 160,000 in major headache for Government 

23 Feb 2023

New migration data for 2022 set out the scale of the challenge facing a government that has pledged to eliminate the asylum backlog, as slow decision-making fueled continued growth in the number of pending applications, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.  

The new Home Office data show that the government took only 23,800 decisions on asylum applications in 2022 (excluding withdrawn applications), contributing to an increasing backlog that reached almost 161,000 people at the end of the year. This was up 60% over the year, from 101,000 at the end of December 2021 and less than 36,000 in 2018.  

In 2022, the government received 74,800 new asylum claims relating to 89,000 people, comparable to levels seen in mid-2003 but lower than the 2002 peak.   

As recent Migration Observatory analysis shows, increased asylum applications are only one factor behind the current backlog. Slow decision-making allowed the backlog to build up over several years, well before the uptick in asylum applications in 2021-2022.  

Dr Peter Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “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.” 

A large asylum backlog is widely recognised as a problem. Past research shows that long waiting times hurt the integration of asylum seekers whose claims are successful. At the same time, the backlog imposes a financial cost on government, which must provide housing and subsistence to asylum seekers, who are usually not allowed to work while their claims are pending. Today’s data show that 76% of asylum decisions in 2022 were positive (i.e. grants of status). The average waiting time by 2021 was more than 20 months, according to Migration Observatory FOI data.  

The government today announced a new light-touch asylum process for people from countries with very high asylum success rates, namely Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen. By the end of 2022, 25,600 main applicants from these countries were in the asylum backlog, of whom 14,700 had applied before July 2022. Together, people from these countries have a 98% success rate for initial asylum applications.  

The top two nationalities of people claiming asylum were Albania (19%) and Afghanistan (13%). In the last quarter of the year, however, the number of Albanian applicants decreased by 70% since the summer (Q3). Applications from Afghan citizens, by contrast, increased 69% from Q3 to Q4 2022.  

While no new statistics on overall immigration have been published since the previous ONS figures for the year ending June 2022, data on the number of visas granted suggest that migration levels in calendar year 2022 remained high by historical standards. The Home Office issued 1,400,000 visas in 2022 (excluding visit, transit, frontier permits and student visitors). As the Migration Observatory has shown in recent research, unusual factors contributed to high visa grants among non-EU citizens over the past year, most notably the schemes offering residence rights to people leaving Ukraine (15% of visas granted in 2022) and Hong Kong (4%). A further 44% of visas went to international students.  

By contrast, relatively few people from EU countries (53,000) received visas to move to the UK in 2022, of which 39% were for international students.  Reasons for the post-Brexit immigration system’s low attractiveness to EU citizens include additional bureaucracy and easier migration options elsewhere in the EU. Many are also no longer eligible for visas due to restrictions on work visas in low-wage jobs.  

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Migration patterns to and from the UK have changed dramatically since Brexit. In the mid-2010s, most migration came from EU countries, but EU citizens now make up only 4% of people receiving residence visas. At the same time, a series of unusual circumstances including the war in Ukraine have pushed up migration from outside the EU. Some of the factors contributing to high visa grants are likely to be temporary. The current situation thus can’t be considered a long-term ‘new normal’ although it could last for a good couple of years.” 


Press Contact

If you would like to make a press enquiry, please contact:

Rob McNeil

+ 44 (0)7500 970081

 Contact Us 


This Migration Observatory is kindly supported by the following organisations.

  • University of Oxford logo
  • COMPAS logo
  • Esmee Fairbairn logo
  • Barrow Cadbury Trust logo
  • Paul Hamlyn Foundation logo