Data released by the Home Office recently show that Afghans were among the top nationalities using small boats to reach the UK in Q2 2022, while Ukrainians—one of the only groups of refugees who can travel to the UK on a visa to seek safety—were absent from the small boat statistics, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has revealed.


The data show that in the second quarter alone more than 105,000 Ukrainians received visas to enter the UK under one of the “bespoke” humanitarian routes created for them since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The government has not published data for the number of Afghan refugees resettled during the same period, but reported that as of February 2022, around 6,500 had been granted protection under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). In the same quarter, 18,800 people applied for asylum, including 1,478 Afghans.


But despite the political focus on asylum applications, the number of people using “safe and legal routes” to protection in the UK greatly outnumbered asylum seekers, who must find their own way to the UK, often through irregular means. In addition to the 105,000 Ukraine Scheme visa recipients, a further 18,600 British National Overseas (BNO) status holders and their family members from Hong Kong have also been granted visas to live and work in the UK. Together, the Ukraine and BNO schemes made up as much as 40% of entry visas granted for any purpose in Q2 2022 (excluding tourist visas), making them a significant contributor to overall migration. 


Dr Peter William Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The data show the vastly different experiences that refugees from different countries have reaching the UK. Most Afghan refugees cannot access the UK resettlement schemes, and there is no way to apply to them. That explains why a substantial number of Afghans are coming through the asylum system despite the prospect of long waiting times and recent policies designed to deter asylum seekers. By contrast, where there have been legal routes to seek protection in the UK as in the Ukraine and Hong Kong cases, people have been keen to take them up.”


“Is the number of asylum applications a big number? In the context of the overall immigration system, no. A much larger number of people from Ukraine and Hong Kong have sought protection in the UK without generating much public concern. The big issue is not the overall numbers, but the risks that people take to get here and the difficulty the government has faced running an efficient asylum system to assess their claims.”


Most people who wish to claim asylum in the UK can only do so if they can reach UK territory first, since there is no asylum visa. Data released today also show that the government’s backlog in processing asylum claims has now reached 118,000 people. Ukrainians on one of the Ukraine scheme visas can also apply for asylum if they wish to, although in Q2 2022 only 243 Ukrainian citizens applied for asylum.

The largest nationality crossing the channel in small boats in the first half of 2022 was Albanians. In the second quarter of the year, Albanians also became the top country of nationality for asylum applicants (3,289 people). In the year ending June 2022, a majority (53%) of Albanian asylum applicants were successful at initial decision, and the share is expected to increase after accounting for appeals. This compares to a record 76% positive initial decisions for all nationalities.

When adjusting for population size, the UK ranks 18th for the number of asylum seekers and resettled refugees when compared with other European countries

 Walsh added: “There’s a common assumption that Albanian asylum seekers will go on to have their asylum claims rejected, but in the most recent data this was not true. The UK government has recognized the asylum claims of thousands of Albanians over the last decade. In the year ending June 2022, 53% of Home Office decisions on Albanian asylum claims were positive.”


Broader impacts of the Ukraine crisis are also clear from today’s data: in the year to March 2022, the majority (61%) of the UK’s 32,000 seasonal workers had come from Ukraine. However, because working age Ukrainian men are now expected to remain in the country to be available for military service, Ukrainians made up only 17% (3,429) of the UK’s seasonal worker visa recipients in the second quarter of 2022. Instead, employers turned to workers from other former Soviet Union countries such as Uzbekistan (3,449), Kyrgyzstan (2,345) and Tajikistan (2,056).


Today’s data also show strong demand for the post-Brexit immigration system among non-EU citizens. In the year ending June 2022, 194,000 main applicant work visas were granted to non-EU citizens, the highest since comparable data become available in 2005. The health sector is largely responsible for the increase, with 46,400 health and care visas granted to main applicants in the same period. By contrast, visa grants to EU citizens remain low. Only 12% or 27,300 work visas were granted to EU citizen main applicants in the year ending June 2022. Updated immigration and net migration estimates have not been published today and are expected in November.


Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The post-Brexit immigration system has brought in relatively few EU citizens. There are several possible explanations for this. Employers in sectors that used to rely heavily on EU citizens are often less familiar with the new system and in many cases the jobs they recruit for are simply no longer eligible. EU citizens may be finding the restrictions and costs in the new system unattractive. And in some cases, such as agriculture, employers have switched to hiring non-EU citizens instead, perhaps because they are more willing to work at the pay and visa conditions that are being offered.”


While EU citizens were a major source of workers in the NHS a few years ago, newly recruited health workers now come almost exclusively from non-EU countries. Only 2% of health and care visas were granted to EU citizen main applicants in the year ending June 2022.