Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said the government is on course to recruit an additional 700 asylum caseworkers by the start of September, as part of an initiative to increase the speed at which asylum applications are processed.
Jenrick made the claim during an appearance on Sky News in which he said the Home Office currently had 1,800 caseworkers, and was set to increase that to 2,500 by 1 September.
“It is right that we make the Home Office as efficient as possible. And the good news is that we are succeeding," Jenrick said.
"We’ve increased the number of decisions makers to 1,800 and we’re on course by 1 September to increase that to 2,500. That will be almost doubling the size of the organisation.
“Productivity is rising and the last eight weeks of data show record levels of decision making. So I’m very confident that we’ll make good on the promise that we made in December to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year and to put the whole system on a more sustainable footing.”
The government has been under pressure to achieve its target of clearing the “legacy backlog” of asylum applications by the end of 2023. Announcing the ambition in December 2022, the prime minister pledged to double the number of asylum caseworkers and “radically re-engineer” the decision-making process.
In the month prior to Sunak’s announcement, the home secretary told the home affairs select committee there were more than 1,000 asylum caseworkers employed by the Home Office. Jenrick first pledged to increase this figure to 2,500 in January 2023, in a written answer to questions about the government’s immigration policy from Labour MP Afzal Khan.
Figures published by the Home Office in May 2023 show there were 614 asylum caseworkers employed at the end of the 2021-22 financial year. This is an increase of 14 from the previous year, but more than double the 260 in such roles in 2015-16 – since when the number of asylum applications has increased almost tenfold.
Analysis by the Institute for Government shows that caseworker productivity went down by 62% between 2011-12 and 2021-22, despite the overall increase in staffing. According to its figures, a total of 1,237 caseworkers were making an average of four asylum decisions per month by December 2022, compared to 13.7 decisions per month by 380 caseworkers in 2011-12.
Following an inspection of asylum casework between August 2020 and May 2021, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said that high staff churn, inadequate training and the removal of a service standard to decide “straightforward” cases had contributed to the backlog of asylum decisions.
Several initiatives have since been introduced to improve application processing times, including performance incentives, a streamlined process and the increases in headcount.
The legacy backlog consists of asylum applications made before 28 June 2022 – a figure that stood at 92,601 in December 2022, at 80,148 at the end of March and at 62,157 on July 30, the most recent data release date.
The overall number of applications awaiting a decision was 133,779 at last count, in July 2023, giving a sense of the scale of the task facing the Home Office.