Asylum claims are not the cause of the UK’s record immigration

Attitudes to refugees have hardened since last September, said a BBC report yesterday. It found an increase in the number of people who think the UK has taken in too many refugees and should now be taking fewer. This is another manifestation of the growing concern about immigration noted by Gallup and Mori polls last month.

But the UK has only taken 1,000 Syrian refugees and only grants a few thousand asylum claims each year. Even if Britain took no refugees at all it would make very little difference to the immigration figures.

While it is true that immigration to the UK is at a record high, this has almost nothing to do with refugees and asylum seekers. As this chart from Migration Observatory shows, there was a time, back in the early 1990s when asylum seekers accounted for most of Britain’s immigration but that was a long time ago when immigration was fairly low. There was a spike in asylum claims in the early 2000s but even then it was not the main component of migration. As a proportion of overall immigration, asylum has been very low for the last decade.


Chart via Migration Observatory

Most people come to the UK through established channels, to work, to study or to join family already here.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 15.59.56

Source: ONS Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, November 2015

When compared to other countries in Europe, the level of asylum applications in the UK is not particularly high. It has remained fairly steady over the past few years even as it has increased for some of our neighbours.

When you adjust these figures for population, the UK is nowhere. Compared to most of the richer EU countries, the UK has very few asylum applications.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 14.23.31

Source: Asylum in the EU, European Commission, June 2015 (Figures for 2014)

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 11.12.34

Chart via BBC

The UK may have the second highest level of immigration in the EU (although when you adjust for population size, it is somewhere in the middle of the pack) but unlike some other European countries, asylum barely features in the numbers.

Britain has a labour market and job opportunities that draw workers from across the EU. It contains by far EU’s biggest city and world famous universities which attract ambitious young people from all over the world. Thanks to the legacy of its empire it has communities from many different countries who maintain contacts with their friends and relatives. Consequently there is a flow of people coming here to do business and to join family members who have already settled. London is the favoured location for corporations’ European HQs. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that US citizens accounted for the largest proportion of UK temporary residence visas in 2014.

There are, then, all sorts of reasons for Britain’s record levels of immigration. Mostly people come to work, to study or to join other family members. You may think it’s a good thing, you may not. Let’s be clear about one thing though; it has nothing to do with people crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats.

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26 Responses to Asylum claims are not the cause of the UK’s record immigration

  1. gunnerbear says:

    Except of course once ‘Aunty Merkel’ hands out millions of passports to the ‘New Germans’ who can’t seem to operate plumbing…. …..if we stay in the EU well be forced to accept ’em…… …..never mind the economic migrants at Calais salivating at getting into the UK illegally. The sort of scum that do this………..

    • Truth to Power says:

      Ricks post focuses on Asylum seekers. I beleive that it is intended that ‘Asylum Seekers’ return home once the problems in their countries have ended.

      It is your concern that such people may be given EU pasports and become ‘Asylum Shoppers’. If they enter the UK they would presumably be recorded within our ‘Economic Migrant’ statistics – only time will tell … perhaps Rick may know.

      The points that you seem to be making are the unpleasant aspects of their culture, behaviours, and unlawlessness. I can only assume that we shall need to leave Europe or start building more prisons and/or deport them.

      I question whether diversity and multiculturalism is such a good idea. I do not beleive that our governments have fully understood Gestalt psychologist where Kurt Koffka theory where he claimed that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”

    • Jojo says:

      Rubbish. Asylum seekers would have to be recognised and then in Germany’s case live there 8 years, speak fluent German and NOT be claiming any benefit to qualify for a passport. They would according to German have to give up their initial citizenship. Only then could they come to the UK under EU rules. But why would they? After having gone through all the time and effort, they would have jobs and have access to superior health and school education systems. So why would they want to come here?

  2. JohnM says:

    I do so like the detail you give in support of your posts….maybe The Sun will learn something. The Maily Dail is a lost cause..

  3. Truth to Power says:

    With respect I thought that the UK’s problems are from ‘Economic Migrants’ such as those in Calais rather than ‘Asylum’ seekers.

    We have a situation associated with the Middle East which is causing millions of ‘Asylum’ seekers to enter Europe by boat. The numbers entering the UK are being controled (Dublin, Schengen Agreements plus Government policy). So the ‘Asylum’ numbers shown within your statistics are low, unlike countries like Sweeden and Germany where the figures for ‘Asylum’ applications are high.

  4. Patricia Leighton says:

    I agree that there are historic reasons,plus economic ones for high immigration levels I still find it odd that we count students. What on earth would be the position regarding asylum seekers if we left the EU? We would have to have facilities right along our coast to try to stop people there.I also agree the Daily Mail is a lost cause but the bias in most of our media is dreadful-GET THE FACTS!

  5. Jim says:

    Yes, and how many of those coming to join ‘family’ are coming to join someone who claimed asylum? A fair few I’d say. 10k asylum cases granted could well multiply up to 30/40/50K joiners. And asylum seekers have children once here too, they need to be added into the mix. Mr Syrian ‘refugee’ can bring in wife and several ‘kids’, his mother/father brother etc etc, then have 3 or 4 more kids once here. One asylum case, perhaps 5-10 new inhabitants of the UK who wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t granted asylum. By limiting the figures to just the initial grant of asylum you are studiously ignoring the consequences of that action on other immigration figures.

    • Steve Williams says:

      You’ve put the word ‘refugee’ in scare quotes, but before an individual can legally bring any family members to the country they would need to be classes as a refugee. Your scare quotes are prejudicial.

      Also, I don’t believe that a Syrian refugee would automatically be able to secure visas for his parents or his siblings.

  6. Bill Wells says:

    It is important to distinguish between inflows (immigration) and net migration (inflows minus outflow (emigration). The migration story is not one story.

    Inflows picked up and have stayed relatively constant in the 21st Century. But although the inflows have been relatively constant the reasons for the high inflows have been different. Pre 2004 asylum seekers (Sangatte etc) was a major reason & a growth in non-EEA migrants; then from 2004 there was the opening up of the A8/A10 which replaced some of the fall in the previous source of high immigration. This new A8 source looked ready to fall back but the recession meant that it didn’t and also other EU migrants again filled the gap. Again it looked like there was about to be a fall but then the A2 joined the EU.

    If you sign up to this then the previous policies to restrict non-EEA migrants & the previous set of asylum seekers had an effect in restricting immigration from those sources; the initial burst of A2 immigration & the improving EU economy meant that we might even have been looking at a fall back in immigration (until the latest migration issue arose). But overall I think there is unlikely to be a further increase in immigration. It will either stay roughly constant or possibly even fall back.

    But even if immigration does fall I think that we will continue to have record levels of net migration as the various cohorts stay longer in the UK and drag up the average duration. Consequently, policies to affect the average duration net migration – both the cost and the numbers – will become increasingly important. In terms of your work it does mean that it is important to ensure like with like is compared. So, comparing asylum seekers with net migration, probably overstates the role they played in immigration – particularly during the Sangatte period.

    For example, I suspect that the major reason for illegal migration is now ‘overstaying’ rather than inflow. And so policies to get people to go home when they promised (eg at the end of the education course) will need to be more efficient.

    Similarly, policies to reduce the cost of the increased average duration will also need to be more important. The UK system (which is amongst the least discriminatory in the world) has always tended to do that by having a welfare state which is residence based with a waiting period.. And the EU negotiation on in-work tax credits is fully in line with this approach (and very similar to the Worker’s Registration Scheme brought in in 2004).

    This is also the approach associated taken with non-EEA migrants. Essentially there has been a piecemeal introduction of a social insurance system for migrants for a waiting period until they can fully access the 5 Giants of the welfare state after a period. It may be that a more systematic approach – which treats non-EEA & EU migrants equally – would be fairer and more efficient. But both the rules of the EU and the piecemeal approach of the government – partly caused by addressing a different set of immigration issues sequentially.

  7. Needs2Cash says:

    Asylum shoppers may be giving the genuine asylum seekers a bad reputation. Let us see the shoppers repatriated so we can focus our care and cash on genuine seekers of asylum.

    An arduous journey does not an asylum seeker make. Perhaps we could learn why someone refusing asylum in France is still considered an asylum seeker.

    • gunnerbear says:

      Exactly, once the person refuses to claim asylum in the first safe country they come to e.g. Italy, then that makes the person an economic migrant determined to leach off us. No place in the UK for illegals trying to get in that way.

      • Truth to Power says:

        Initially you would become a refugee see ….

        Then after 5 years you would need ….

        Permission to stay as a refugee

        You and your dependants may be given permission to stay in the UK for 5 years if you qualify for asylum. This is known as ‘leave to remain’.

        After 5 years, you can apply to settle in the UK.


        Permission to stay for humanitarian reasons

        You may get permission to stay for humanitarian reasons if you don’t qualify for asylum. This means you need to stay in the UK for your protection.

        You and your dependants may be given permission to stay in the UK for 5 years. This is known as ‘leave to enter’ or ‘leave to remain’.

        After 5 years, you can apply to settle in the UK.

        • gunnerbear says:

          And that’s the problem…do gooders.

          Time for the UK to get out of the ’51 Convention and the EU treaties regarding refugees and for the UK to state (as Australia has done in terms of its policies), “If you fail to apply for asylum at the first safe country you come to… entry to you… are an economic migrant, determined to criminally enter the UK….”

  8. P Hearn says:

    I do feel very deep sympathy for those asylum seekers fleeing the utterly brutal, violent and un-democratic regime in France.

  9. Truth to Power says:


    The data is interesting but perhaps confused by the way that it is classified.

    Perhaps the imigrants are moving here because they beleive that the UK has something special to offer (safety, wealth …), or they may perhaps be moving here to re-assemble their family units. It might be insightful to knowing where they were born. Does that information exists?

  10. Keith says:

    facts are boring The “Immigration Debate” is all about distracting the public from the far right policies of the Toff party. Cuts affecting the standard of life of millions get mysteriously little coverage in the propaganda sheets of the billionaires….

  11. colinnewlyn says:

    From the comments, it seems the ‘true’ picture of immigration depends on what you want it to be. What you’ve shown, Rick, is that the figures that are available do not support the rhetoric from the media.

  12. másvalaki says:

    re number of applications for asylum normalize by population size. Hungary is first on the list, but make no mistake authorities turned down every single application, laws were rapidly enacted by parliament to streamline the process so that makeshift courts can turn down thousands of applications per day.

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