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UK policies to deter people from claiming asylum

23 Jan 2024

by Peter William Walsh and Madeleine Sumption

This note was first published on 4 April 2023, and was updated in January 2024. 

Over the years, the UK has introduced numerous policies to make seeking asylum in the UK less attractive. Most recently, 2021 to 2023 has seen the UK government propose and introduce measures designed explicitly to deter people from seeking asylum in the UK. This briefing note brings together statistics and research evidence to inform discussion about these policy measures.

Key questions

  • How do current and proposed asylum policies aim to deter people from seeking asylum in the UK?
  • Determining deterrence: can we ever know if policies to deter asylum migration have worked?
  • ‘Deterrence policies’ for asylum seekers: what does the evidence say about their impacts?
  • Will the Illegal Migration Act mean more people are removed from the UK?
  • How many people will be affected by asylum deterrence policies?
  • How will deterrence policies affect immigration detention in the UK?
  • How will deterrence policies affect the integration of refugees in the UK?
  1. Understanding the Policy

    Before 2021, the UK already had some policies in place designed in part to deter people from claiming asylum. These included restrictions on asylum seekers’ right to work and access to benefits. However, this briefing note focuses on measures announced or introduced from 2021 onwards. These include the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Rwanda plan, and the Illegal Migration Act 2023. ...Click to read more.

    The Nationality and Borders Act 2022

    The Nationality and Borders Act provisions still apply to the cohort of people entering the UK or claiming asylum between 28 June 2022 and 6 March 2023, as well as to people who enter legally but overstay their visas and claim asylum whilst without immigration status. The provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act have been described in more detail elsewhere, such as in this House of Lords Library briefing. The key provisions designed to deter people from seeking asylum were:

    • Deeming people ‘inadmissible’ to the UK asylum system if they were believed to have a connection with a ‘safe third country’, such as France. In theory, the government would attempt to remove them to that country or any other safe third country. In practice, if they could not be removed (for example, because no safe country was willing to take them back), they would eventually be admitted to the UK asylum system. Note that a similar inadmissibility policy had been in Immigration Rules since 1 January 2021.
    • Penalising refugees for irregular entry. If the government considered that a person had not ‘come directly’ to the UK or did not have good reason for their irregular entry or stay—but nonetheless recognised that they had a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin—they would grant them ‘Group 2’ refugee status, with fewer rights attached. This included a ten-year (instead of five-year) path to settlement and restrictions on the ability to bring their partner or child to join them in the UK. This differentiation between Group 1 and Group 2 refugees was suspended in July 2023. It is not clear whether or when they might be reintroduced for people not subject to the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act.

    The Rwanda deal

    In April 2022, the government announced that it would send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, under an agreement concluded with that country. Under the scheme, the UK’s legal responsibilities for people who have claimed asylum would largely end once they have been relocated to Rwanda. People affected by the policy would not be able to apply for asylum in the UK. Instead, they would be able to apply for asylum in Rwanda and have their claims processed there, within Rwanda’s asylum system. If their claim were successful, they would be given asylum in Rwanda, with no option to return to the UK.

    Following legal challenges, nobody has been relocated to Rwanda under the scheme. The future of the policy is uncertain given the Supreme Court’s ruling that the policy was unlawful, because Rwanda was not a safe third country to send asylum claimants to. The government has introduced a new treaty with Rwanda and accompanying legislation designed to make it possible to remove people to Rwanda following the Supreme Court judgment.

    A more detailed discussion of the Rwanda policy is available in the Migration Observatory’s Q&A: the UK’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

    The Illegal Migration Bill

    This latest piece of legislation contains substantial new restrictions on access to the asylum system for people who enter the UK without authorisation. Among its many provisions, the Act would deem most asylum claims from people who entered through irregular means ‘inadmissible’ and prevent the Home Office from making decisions on their claims. The Act would create a ‘duty’ on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for their removal, primarily to ‘safe third countries’. If people could not be removed (for example, because there is no safe third country to remove them to), they would remain in the UK indefinitely without legal status, unless they qualified for an exemption. If people in this position are destitute, they would be eligible indefinitely for housing and asylum support.

    At the time of writing, the part of the Act that creates a duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements to remove people to safe third countries had not been put into force. Without a safe third country to remove people to (such as Rwanda), the Home Secretary will not be able to fulfil that duty.

    The Act also gives the government greater discretion to detain asylum seekers. For those targeted for removal, the Act removes almost all protections for victims of modern slavery and trafficking, including the obligation to grant victims of modern slavery or trafficking permission to stay in the UK.

    There are exceptions for trafficking victims who are cooperating with criminal investigations into their alleged traffickers; and for unaccompanied children, who are not automatically subject to the duty for arrangements to be made for their removal, although the Home Office does have the power to remove them as minors – something the Home Office has said will be used in “very limited circumstances”.

    At the time of writing, it was uncertain whether this part of the Act will be commenced in the short term, following the UK Supreme Court’s ruling of 15 November 2023 (see above).

How do current and proposed asylum policies aim to deter people from seeking asylum in the UK?

The UK government has an explicit policy of deterring people from seeking asylum in the UK. The policies discussed in this note apply regardless of whether the person’s asylum claim is likely to succeed. They apply to citizens of countries with high asylum success rates, such as, Afghanistan (99%) and Syria (99%), as well as those whose claims may be less likely to succeed, such as people from China or India.

Two of the key types of policy designed to deter people from claiming asylum are (a) policies that aim to make it easier to remove people to ‘safe third countries’ without assessing their asylum claim; and (b) policies to give fewer rights to refugees who cannot be removed and remain in the UK.

a. Removal to safe third countries

Public statements about recent asylum measures have focused on the argument that people who pass through safe countries on the way to the UK should be removed without having their asylum claim heard in order to deter others from coming here. Removing people to their countries of origin is often not possible: the government has determined that most people who have claimed asylum in recent years are refugees who would be at risk if they were sent home. As a result, government policy has largely focused on removing people to safe third countries. As described in more detail below, the UK currently has an agreement with only one third country that is willing to accept asylum seekers: Rwanda. This agreement was ruled unlawful in November 2023 by the UK’s Supreme Court.

b. Fewer rights for asylum seekers who remain in the UK

When asylum seekers cannot be removed (for example, because there is no country willing to take them), they will remain in the UK. If such people go on to be successful in their asylum claim, the government initially proposed penalising them by giving them fewer rights – a policy that was suspended in July 2023, and as at the time of writing remains paused. However, the Illegal Migration Act goes much further than this and envisages leaving certain affected asylum seekers in the UK indefinitely without legal status. People affected by the 2023 proposals would not be allowed to work, but would be eligible for financial support and accommodation if they are destitute.

The proposed 2023 asylum legislation also expands powers to detain asylum seekers and removes legal protections against detention or removal. For more details, see ‘Understanding the Policy’, above.

Determining deterrence: can we ever know if policies to cut asylum migration have worked?

The UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has pledged to “stop the boats”. But what does this mean, and will we know if policies to stop the boats have worked?

The government has not clarified what it means by “stopping the boats”. A literal interpretation suggests zero small boats reaching the UK, and the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, has said that his aim is to reduce small boat crossings to zero in 2024 (as of 14 January 2024, 263 people were detected crossing in 2024). Given recent trends, zero small boat arrivals seems highly unlikely in the short to medium term. Yet a very large reduction in small boat arrivals could also reasonably be described as delivering on the pledge to ‘stop the boats’, and the government currently describes its small boats policy as ‘working’, given a provisional 36% reduction in arrivals in 2023. An alternative outcome would be a decline in small boat arrivals alongside an increase in overall irregular migration to the UK, via other detected routes, such as lorry drops. Whether this would be viewed as a success is less clear.

The problem of the missing counterfactual

Among the various types of migration, asylum-related migration is the most uncertain, and is prone to large fluctuations. These fluctuations can be driven by a wide range of factors, most of which are unrelated to destination countries’ asylum policies. These include perceptions of the favourability of destination countries, and conditions in countries of origin or transit, such as political repression, war, civil conflict, regime transition, environmental shocks, and economic crises.

For example, in recent times, the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the civil war in Sudan, and the military coup in Niger have all affected the migration of asylum seekers to other countries, including the UK. In transit countries, the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011, decisions by the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko to encourage asylum seekers from African and Middle Eastern countries to cross into the EU via Belarus, and arrangements between the EU and Turkey to prevent asylum migration could all qualify as affecting the potential favourability of these migratory routes.

Crucially, it is not possible to disentangle the effects of these and other factors from the effects of a particular policy, such as the Rwanda scheme, or the Illegal Migration Act.

At the heart of this problem is the missing counterfactual. If boat arrivals go up, this does not necessarily mean that policies have not worked. It could be argued that had the government not implemented its policies, boat arrivals would have gone up even more. Conversely, if there were a notable decline in boat arrivals (like the provisional 36% reduction in 2023), this is not proof that government policies were responsible for all of that change. This could just be normal fluctuation, and it will be important to see whether declines are sustained. In other words, without the counterfactual – the ‘parallel universe’ in which the Rwanda policy and Illegal Migration Act did not exist – there is no way to establish precisely these policies’ deterrent impact.

More problematically, a decline in detected small boat arrivals could reflect diversion into other irregular routes, such as people reaching the UK by stowing away in lorries, containers, or private vehicles. Indeed, the Illegal Migration Act reduces the incentive for irregular migrants in the UK who have not been detected by the authorities to claim asylum, because that would make them vulnerable to detention and removal. It also incentivises would-be irregular entrants to use less detectable routes. If a fall in boat arrivals or asylum claims results from people simply arriving through other, more clandestine routes, this could be viewed as a political success in reducing highly visible and contentious small boat arrivals. But it would be harder to present such an outcome as a substantive policy success.

None of this is to say that there is simply no way of knowing the impacts of deterrence policies overall. It may be hard to calculate statistically the deterrent effect of any single policy. But there is still useful statistical evidence about deterrence policies in high-income countries in general. Qualitative research, such as interviews with would-be irregular entrants, might also be able to shed light on policies’ deterrent impact. The Home Secretary has said that the government has collected such evidence. All of the available evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, is discussed in the next section.

Deterrence policies’ for asylum seekers: what does the evidence say about their impacts?

The government has said that the purpose of recent asylum policies is to deter people from entering the UK to seek asylum, especially those who cross the English Channel in small boats.

The available evidence on whether asylum policies deter people from seeking asylum in high-income countries is based on measures these countries introduced over the past decades, most of which are less restrictive than what the government has proposed through the 2023 legislation. It is therefore difficult to state conclusively what the impact of these new policies will be. However, the available evidence suggests that the deterrent effect of asylum policies tends to be small. This is because:

  • Policy has been found to not be the most important factor influencing changes in the number of people claiming asylum. Global developments, such as conflicts in countries of origin, appear statistically to be more important.
  • Prospective asylum seekers do not always know what policies will face them when they arrive. The information they have may be inaccurate or misleading and not particularly detailed.
  • Decisions about where and how to move depend not just on policy. Many other factors, such as the presence of family members, also play a role.

An internal Home Office report released in response to a freedom of information request examined the drivers of asylum seekers’ choice of destination country. It stated that the “role of welfare policies, economic factors and labour market access as potential drivers of migration to the UK is limited as many asylum seekers have little to no understanding of current asylum policies and the economic conditions of a destination country”.

A 2002 report commissioned by the Home Office drew on 65 interviews with asylum-seekers and found that seven main factors led to migrants seeking asylum in the UK. None of the reasons were related to asylum policy. The researchers found little evidence that the respondents had a detailed knowledge of UK asylum procedures, benefit entitlements, or the availability of work in the UK. There was even less evidence that the respondents had a comparative knowledge of how these conditions varied between different European destination countries.

Qualitative research in other countries has come to similar conclusions. It has found that asylum seekers typically do not have a clear picture of what policies will face them after they arrive, and that perceptions of different destinations are formed based on higher-level factors, such as a country’s overall reputation as safe or welcoming[1][2][3]. Research has found that the information that asylum seekers have is often inaccurate. Another study found that “preventive migration policies, particularly those concerned with deterrence, appear to matter little” to asylum seekers’ choice of destination country. The qualitative research based on interviews with asylum seekers is in broad agreement that asylum policy, especially that concerning the treatment of asylum seekers after they arrive, is not likely to be a powerful tool for influencing individuals’ decision-making.

Quantitative studies on the determinants of asylum-seeking are broadly consistent with this qualitative research, with some partial exceptions. Hatton found that policies restricting access to destination countries’ territories, and a lower application success rate, were associated with fewer asylum applications in destination countries. But Hatton found no evidence that policies governing the treatment of asylum seekers after arrival reduce applications. This finding is consistent with the main findings of qualitative research. By contrast, Brekke et al. found that restrictions to asylum seekers’ rights after arrival did reduce asylum applications – but not by much. More broadly, Hatton and Brekke et al. are in agreement that geopolitical factors – specifically, conflict, terrorism, and poor economic conditions in origin countries – are much bigger drivers of asylum-seeking than policies governing the treatment of asylum seekers after arrival. Thieleman similarly found that the key determinants of an asylum seeker’s choice of host country are historical, economic, and reputational, which “lie beyond the reach of asylum policymakers”. In particular, he found no evidence that measures intended to return asylum seekers to so-called ‘safe third countries’ reduced asylum applications.

International examples of policies, such as returns agreements that have aimed to deter people from arriving to seek asylum—such as in Australia or the EU-Turkey deal—have often also combined deterrence policies with physical enforcement. Physical enforcement may be more effective in reducing asylum applications than deterrence policies. For example, Australian analyst Henry Sherrell has argued that the main reason that Australia was able to reduce the number of people arriving by small boat was that it turned boats around at sea – an argument also made by The Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

The Nationality and Borders Bill Impact Assessment

The Home Office provided an estimate of the deterrent effect of the Nationality and Borders Bill in its Impact Assessment of the proposed legislation. The substance of this Bill (now an Act) is no longer as relevant as it once was, following the enactment of the Illegal Migration Act. However, it is nonetheless interesting to note the Home Office’s own assessment that the measures introduced to deter asylum applications would not have much effect.

Under a first scenario in which the Bill’s measures are implemented, but wider system reform as envisaged by the New Plan for Immigration is not, a central estimate of just 800 fewer irregular arrivals per year is forecast (over how many years is not provided). Under a second scenario, the Bill’s measures are implemented in addition to wider system reform, including wide-ranging operational changes in the UK and other countries. But even within this more radical scenario of fundamental reform, the model estimates that just 5,900 fewer people will arrive irregularly (unlike the first scenario, there are no upper and lower estimates). This is equivalent to a 16% decrease on 2021 figures (the year before the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act) of detected irregular entries (including but not limited to small boat arrivals), and 11% fewer than were detected arriving irregularly in 2022 (2021 is the year before the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act).

Importantly, the Impact Assessment notes that the size of these deterrence impacts “is difficult to estimate with any certainty” and that many of the assumptions underpinning the analysis “are based on the judgment of officials” due to a lack of “objective evidence”.

Will the Illegal Migration Bill mean more people are removed from the UK?

A key part of the Act places a legal duty on the Home Secretary to make preparations to remove asylum seekers without assessing their claims. But in most cases, this can only be done if other countries agree to receive them. Removals to countries of origin is possible for EU nationals and a handful of others, including Albania. At the time of writing, the only country that had agreed to take the UK’s asylum seekers was Rwanda, but the policy was not yet operational following legal challenges.

Legislation alone cannot create returns agreements with other countries. The legislation also contains provisions that make certain asylum seekers more difficult to remove, as explained in our commentary, Diminishing returns? Does the Illegal Migration Bill mean the government is giving up on returning refused asylum seekers?. As a result, one expected impact of the legislation is to create a new cohort of people with no legal status in the UK and limited prospects of being removed.

Agreements with ‘safe third countries’

The lack of safe third countries willing to accept asylum seekers from the UK is one reason few people have been returned under existing policies. Around 70,000 people were assessed for ‘inadmissibility’ (on the basis of them having an earlier presence in, or connection to, a safe third country) from 1 January 2021 to 30 September 2023 (the teal bar in Figure 1), but only 23 had been removed by 30 September 2023 – equivalent to 0.03%, or 1 in around 3,300.

Figure 1

Even where the UK has had agreements with safe third countries to accept asylum seekers without hearing their claims, this has not necessarily led to large numbers of returns. For example, under the pre-Brexit ‘Dublin III Regulation’, a small fraction of asylum seekers were returned to other EU member states. In the five-year period from 2016 to 2020, around 194,000 people applied for asylum in the UK, while there were around 1,250 Dublin transfers out of the country (Figure 2). A handful of other European countries do return more people under Dublin than the UK did, although low use of the Dublin system is common in many EU countries. A 2015 report from the Migration Policy Institute identified a number of logistical challenges to moving people with pending asylum claims between EU countries, including coordination between member states.

Figure 2

Making some asylum applicants unremovable

One effect of the Illegal Migration Act’s proposed requirement not to hear asylum seekers’ claims is that people who would have been refused asylum under the current system will no longer receive a refusal. The legislation does not envisage sending people back to their countries of origin without hearing their asylum claim, unless they are from EEA countries, Albania, India, or Georgia. As a result, it would in theory become harder to remove refused asylum seekers from many countries that currently have below-average asylum grant rates. For more information, see the Migration Observatory commentary Diminishing returns? Does the Illegal Migration Bill mean the government is giving up on returning refused asylum seekers?.

In recent years, the number of asylum seekers who have left the UK, either via an enforced removal or voluntary departure, has fallen (see Figure 5 in our briefing, Deportation and voluntary departure from the UK). There have been previous periods in which returns of asylum seekers were considerably higher (Figure 3). In theory, it is therefore possible for refused asylum seekers to be returned to their countries of origin, even if this has not been the norm in recent years.

Figure 3

In summary, it is possible that the proposed policies together might even reduce the UK’s ability to remove people. Future removals will depend, among other things, on whether any expansion of removals to third countries (such as Rwanda) is offset by any decline in removals to people’s home countries. The net impacts are difficult to predict with any confidence.

How many people will be affected by asylum deterrence policies?

The different proposals discussed in this note are expected to affect different groups of people (see Table 1). In all cases, the number is uncertain, as it depends on how many people arrive to claim asylum in the future and how policies are implemented.

Illegal Migration Bill 2023

The 2023 legislation targets people arriving in the UK through irregular routes.

The Home Office does not publish data on the number or share of all asylum seekers who have arrived through irregular routes. However, it has published information on the number of asylum applicants who arrived via small boat. In 2022, 40,300 people claimed asylum after arriving by small boat (including dependants), and 45% of asylum applicants arrived by small boat. The Home Office does not publish data on how many people detected arriving through other routes, such as by lorry or by air with inadequate documentation, also claimed asylum.

The number of people arriving through irregular means and claiming asylum is expected to change over time. However, the 2022 data indicate that if recent trends continue the number of people subject to the new measures is likely to be in the tens of thousands. This is especially the case if the measures do not have the intended effect of deterring people from arriving—as past research suggests they may not.

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and Group 2 refugees

It remains unclear to what extent the deterrence provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act will affect any UK refugees in future. The Act classified as ‘Group 2’ refugees people whom the government deems did not ‘come directly’ to the UK or cannot show ‘good cause’ for having entered or remained in the UK without legal status. The differentiation of refugees into two categories depending on their method of entry was suspended in July 2023, and as of January 2024 remains paused. If the provisions creating ‘Group 2’ refugees were to be reintroduced, they would apply to people who overstayed their visas before claiming asylum, as well as to the cohort of people who entered between 28 June 2022 and 7 March 2023.

Who is not affected by either the 2022 or 2023 provisions?

‘Sur place’ claimants are not caught by the legislation. This refers to people who are in the UK on a valid visa and make an asylum claim, say, due to a deterioration of conditions in their home country. Also not caught are visa overstayers who claim asylum (say, on coming into contact with the authorities). There are also some relatively narrow exceptions, for human trafficking victims aiding a police investigation, and unaccompanied children under 18. But the majority of asylum applicants who enter the UK via irregular routes, such as by small boat or lorry, are expected to be affected.

Official data suggest that the number of people who arrived on a work, family, or study visa between 2011 and 2016 and had been granted asylum by the end of the fifth year after arrival averaged only around 1,300 per year (Home Office Migrant Journey statistics, Table MJ_01). While some sur-place claimants may be excluded from these figures, the data suggest that the size of the group is likely to be small.

Some people may avoid the deterrence penalties if they claim asylum at ports of entry, such as airports. In 2022, 14% of asylum claims were made at ports of entry (this excludes boat arrivals, which are not classified as claims at ports of entry). Such claims are less likely to involve a dangerous and irregular route. However, they could be considered by the authorities to have involved ‘deception’, where asylum seekers entered on visas that would have been denied had the person said they planned to claim asylum on arrival. Under the 2023 Act, entry by deception is considered a mode of irregular entry.

In summary, the potential scope of the deterrence provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act and Illegal Migration Act together is large and likely to cover most people seeing asylum in the UK.

Table 1: Which asylum seekers are affected by which policy?

Type of asylum applicantNationality and Borders Act 2022RwandaIllegal Migration Act 2023
Irregular entrant (e.g., small boat, lorry)YesYesYes
Entrant via regular port on false documents or by deceptionUnclearNo (because journey not “dangerous”)
Yes (application voided by deception)
Sur-placeNoNo (because journey not “dangerous”)No (because entry lawful)
Visa overstayerYes
(could become Group 2 refugees)
No (because journey not "dangerous")No
(because entry lawful)
Irregular entrant
(e.g., small boat, lorry)
Entrant via regular port on false documents or by deception UnclearNoYes
Sur-place NoNoNo
(because entry lawful)
Visa overstayerYes
(could become Group 2 refugees)
(because entry lawful)

Source: Migration Observatory analysis of legislation and guidance.

How will deterrence policies affect immigration detention in the UK?

Public statements about the Illegal Migration Bill have emphasised the government’s desire to detain people who claim asylum to facilitate their removal. This focus on detention as a policy goal contrasts with government policy on immigration detention over the past decade, which states that detention “must be used sparingly” and for the shortest period possible. One reason for this is the negative impact of detention on individuals. For example, a government-commissioned review published in 2016 stated that research on detention consistently found negative impacts on detainees’ mental health, with larger impacts the longer people are detained.

The UK’s detention estate had capacity at any one time for between 2,000 and 2,500 people in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, just over 20,400 people entered detention, according to Home Office statistics (Figure 5), and on 30 September 2023, there were around 1,800 people in immigration detention.

If the number of people coming to the UK through irregular routes continues at recent levels, detaining a higher share of them would require a substantial increase in the UK’s detention estate. This raises challenging policy questions such as how and where people would be detained and whether the government can ensure appropriate provision, such as healthcare, for detainees—including vulnerable adults. For example, a 2018 review of detention argued that attempts to increase detention capacity by adding extra beds in existing rooms had led to “unacceptable conditions”. More recently, overcrowding at the Manston processing centre in Kent in October and November 2022—which provoked concerns about unsanitary conditions and a lack of support for vulnerable people—illustrates the risks of holding large numbers of people in detention-like conditions.

Figure 4

Given these challenges, it is plausible that the government will not attempt to detain everyone who claims asylum after entering the UK through an irregular route, even though the 2023 Act expands its powers to do so.

However, if people who have claimed asylum remain in the UK indefinitely with no legal status and limited prospects of being removed, they will need to live somewhere and subsist. The Explanatory Notes to the bill confirm that the government expects to support them financially and provide accommodation.

How will deterrence policies affect the integration of refugees in the UK?

Policies to deter refugees from coming to the UK by giving them fewer rights highlight a tension between different migration policy objectives. On the one hand, the government wants to deter people from entering the UK irregularly by restricting refugees’ rights to settle in the UK and reunite with family. On the other hand, its refugee integration policies have traditionally aimed to help refugees who will remain in the UK long term to establish themselves socially and economically.

The Illegal Migration Act 2023 significantly reduces the prospects of asylum seekers receiving legal status in the UK. If substantial numbers of asylum seekers are never removed from the UK, it is possible that the government will find ways to regularise their status, though perhaps after a long delay. Past research on the impacts of lacking legal status suggests the measures would have significant impacts on the individuals concerned. For example, empirical studies of irregular migrants in the UK, based on 175 interviews, found that over half reported stress and anxiety resulting from their status. Another, drawing on 75 interviews with young undocumented migrants in the UK, also documented substantial impacts on individuals’ wellbeing. These findings are discussed in more detail in the Migration Observatory briefing, Irregular migration in the UK.

In summary, both the 2022 and 2023 Acts seek to deter people from claiming asylum by restricting rights that have traditionally been considered important for integration. This is significant, because many of those affected by the policies can be expected to remain in the UK long-term.


This research was made possible thanks to the support of Oak Foundation . With thanks to CJ McKinney for detailed comments on drafts of this briefing note.


[2] Crawley, H. (2010). Chance or Choice? Understanding Why Asylum Seekers Come to the UK. London: Refugee Council.

[3] Crawley, H., & Hagen‐Zanker, J. (2019). Deciding where to go: Policies, people and perceptions shaping destination preferences. International Migration, 57(1): 20-35.

[4] McAuliffe, M. and Jayasuriya, D. (2016) ‘Do asylum seekers and refugees choose destination countries? Evidence from large‐scale surveys in Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka’. International Migration, 54(4): 44-59.

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