Alan Travis, Guardian (London), May 18
The number of people granted British citizenship rose by 12% last year to an annual record of 140,795, with 5,600 of them taking part in citizenship ceremonies for the first time.
Home Office figures published yesterday showed that asylum applications reached their lowest level since 1997. The monthly total is running at 2,200 so far this year, with Iran, Iraq and Somalia the top nationalities.
The asylum figures also reveal that more than 32,000 families with children are still waiting for a decision on their applications under a backlog clearance exercise announced by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, in October 2003. Most first applied for asylum more than five years ago.
The Home Office says that while it has sorted out 21,000 of the 53,000 family applications, there are still 14,000 waiting for an “initial examination” and a further 18,000 waiting for a decision.
The official quarterly asylum statistics confirm that the backlog of new cases awaiting a decision is down from a peak of 140,000 five years ago to 8,700.
Only 16% of applicants are currently given full refugee status or granted leave to stay on initial decision, with a further 16% of those who appeal also allowed to remain.
But deportations remain at around 1,000 a month — far below Tony Blair’s new target of ensuring that they will exceed the monthly total of rejected asylum applications by the end of this year.
Tony McNulty, the new immigration and asylum minister, promised more legislation to deal with the problem.
“We know there is more to do to tighten up the system still further and increase the number of failed asylum seekers we remove. This is essential if people are to have confidence that the system is both robust and fair,” he said.
The asylum figures show for the first time that there are 5,180 failed asylum seekers who are getting “hard case” basic welfare support because they are unable to return home. Most are Iraqis and they will soon be required to perform community work in return for state support.
The record number of new British citizens revealed in the annual figures reflects the rise of legal migration schemes over the past four years. New citizenship applications were running at around 40,000 a year during the 1990s but are now on an upward curve of 130,000 a year and over.
New applications for citizenship — as opposed to those granted status — fell slightly last year from 147,345 to 135,085. The Home Office said this drop was due to the introduction of the requirement for an English language test.
The figures show that most new citizens come from Asia (40%) and Africa (32%), with the largest numbers coming from Pakistan, India, Somalia and South Africa.
Nearly half were granted citizenship on the basis of residence, a third because they had married a British citizen, and the rest involved applications from children. Most new citizens are aged between 25 and 44. The Home Office estimates that59% of the foreign-born population who have been in the country for more than six years have become British citizens.
• Safeguards on the welfare of children detained at two im migration removal centres are “seriously deficient”, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, says today.
She reports that at Tinsley House, near Gatwick, and Dungavel House in Scotland, where 50 children were being held, there was no dedicated child protection officer, inadequate criminal record checks on staff, and no agreed procedures for detaining children.
However, the Scottish centre had made progress since her last inspection. The Home Office also said a dedicated family unit had recently opened at Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire.