Britain will scrap the requirement for around 12,000 asylum seekers to undergo face-to-face interviews and instead ask them to fill out a questionnaire, the government said on Thursday, in an attempt to clear record levels of backlogs.
The interior ministry, or Home Office, said all asylum seekers would still be subject to mandatory security checks and those who fail to respond to the questionnaire could see their claims withdrawn.
"We are working to speed up asylum processing so that people do not wait months or years in the backlog, at vast expense to the taxpayer, and to remove everyone who doesn’t have a legitimate reason to be here," a Home Office spokesperson said.
The 12,000 asylum seekers belong to countries from which a high proportion of individuals are typically granted asylum — Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan - the Home Office said.
Official data on Thursday showed a record 160,919 asylum seekers were awaiting an initial decision on their claim at the end of 2022 — over three times the figure three years ago.
"To ensure our processes remain robust and all claims are properly considered, we have recruited hundreds of case workers to crack through cases," the Home Office spokesperson added.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made curbing illegal migration a priority, promising new legislation to prevent migrants who cross the English Channel from remaining in the country and vowing to clear the backlog of asylum cases by the end of this year.
The questionnaire contains 50 questions that must be answered in English, and claimants would have 20 working days to complete it, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.
Refugee campaign groups criticised the changes as unfair, arguing it made complicated demands of people who know little to no English and have just fled war or persecution.
The British Red Cross said speeding up the asylum process for people from nations with the highest grant rates was a "common sense decision" that was long overdue but that the reported 20-day time limit could have "devastating impacts" and create more work for the Home Office.