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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-year-ending-march-2021/how-many-people-are-detained-or-returned
Data on immigration detention relate to year ending March 2021 and all comparisons are with year ending March 2020, unless indicated otherwise. Data on returns relate to year ending December 2020 (hereon referred to as 2020) to allow more time for returns to be recorded on the system and ensure the published figure is an accurate representation of the number of returns. See the user guide for more details.
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. A range of restrictions were implemented in many parts of the world, and the first UK lockdown measures were announced on 23 March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK immigration system, both in terms of restricting migrant movements to and from the UK and the impact on operational capacity.
Year and year ending comparisons that follow will include impacts resulting from the restrictions put in place during this period of the pandemic.
This section contains data on:
- Individuals detained in the Home Office detention estate and prisons solely under Immigration Act powers
- Returns of people who do not have any legal right to stay in the UK
1. Immigration detention
12,967 people entered detention in year ending March 2021, 44% fewer than the previous year.
There has been a general downward trend in numbers entering detention since the peak in 2015 when over 32,000 people entered detention. There were large falls in the number entering detention immediately following the outbreak, but numbers have since increased although remain below pre-pandemic levels. Since the pandemic, an increasing proportion of those entering detention have been recent clandestine arrivals detained for short periods for processing. The number detained for other reasons has fallen.
Table 1: People entering, leaving and in detention under immigration powers in the UK, year ending March 2019 to year ending March 20211,2,3
|Year ending||Entering detention||Leaving detention||In detention||Of which: In the detention estate|
|Change: latest year||-10,134||-11,122||138||-99|
Source: Immigration detention – Det_D01, Det_D02 and Det_D03
- Detained under immigration powers in either the immigration detention estate or a prison.
- Data on those in detention are as at 31 March.
- The ‘detention estate’ comprises Immigration Removal Centers (IRC), Short Term Holding Facilities (STHF) and Pre-departure Accommodation (PDA). It excludes those detained under immigration powers in prison.
Iranians were the most common nationality entering detention in the latest year, accounting for 14% of the total, or 1,835 entrants, which is a similar number to the previous year but a higher proportion of the total compared with 8% last year. Albanians were the next most common nationality entering detention, although their number (1,542) was around half that in the previous year. While most other nationalities saw falls in numbers entering, there was a four and a half-fold increase in the number of Syrians (+580) and a two and a half-fold increase in Sudanese nationals (+574) compared with the previous year.
As at 31 March 2021, there were 1,033 people in immigration detention (including those detained solely under immigration powers in prison), 15% more than at 31 March 2020 (895) immediately following the first UK lockdown, but 37% fewer than at 31 December 2019 (1,637), pre-pandemic.
The number of people detained in prisons solely under immigration powers increased by 70%, from 340 at 31 March 2020 to 577 at 31 March 2021. This may reflect falls in the number of returns, as well as challenges around releasing some foreign national offenders (FNOs) into the community. The number detained in the remainder of the detention estate (IRC, STHF & PDA) at 31 March 2021 was 456. This was 18% fewer than a year earlier (immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic), and 64% fewer than pre-pandemic levels (1,278 at the end of December 2019).
Figure 1: People detained under immigration powers in the UK, by place of detention,as at the last day of the quarter, Q1 2018 to Q1 20211,2
Source: Immigration detention – Det_D01
- The ‘detention estate’ comprises Immigration Removal Centers (IRC), Short Term Holding Facilities (STHF) and Pre-departure Accommodation (PDA). It excludes those who are detained under Immigration powers in prisons.
- 2019 Q4 is the last data point before the pandemic with 2020 Q1 being immediately following the first UK lockdown.
Figure 2 shows that an increasing proportion of people that were detained spent short periods in detention; 64% of those who left detention in year ending March 2021 were detained for seven days or less, up from 38% in the preceding year. This is in part due to an increasing proportion of detainees being those detained for short periods on arrival to the UK before being dispersed through appropriate routes, such as asylum.
Figure 2: People leaving immigration detention, by length of detention1,2, year ending March 2017 to year ending March 2021
Source: Immigration detention – Det_D03
- Data from July 2017 includes those leaving detention through HM Prisons. Data are not directly comparable with previous years. See the user guide for more details.
- ‘ < ’ means ‘less than’.
Although there have been longer-term falls in the number of returns in recent years, the pandemic has impacted the ability to secure returns – 3,062 people were returned directly from detention in year ending March 2021 (24% of all those leaving detention), down from 8,316 in year ending March 2020 (35% of those leaving). In contrast, in 2010 there were 16,577 returns (64% of those leaving detention). A recent research report ‘Issues raised by people facing return in immigration detention’ (Home Office, 2021) provides more information on some of the reasons for this trend.
Figure 3 shows that among the top 10 nationalities leaving detention in year ending March 2021, there were differences in whether people were granted bail or returned from the UK. For example, 99% (911) of Sudanese nationals and 99% (629) of Eritreans were granted bail. However, 85% (719) of Romanians, 79% (329) of Brazilians and 62% (277) of Poles who left detention were returned from the UK. Changes in the overall proportion of people who receive bail or who are returned from the UK will therefore, partly reflect changes in the mix of nationalities who are detained, and any barriers to being returned to their country of origin for people who have no right to remain in the UK.
Figure 3: Top 10 nationalities1 leaving detention by reason for leaving2,3, in year ending March 2021
Source: Immigration detention – Det_D03
- Top 10 nationalities in the most recent year.
- Bailed (SOS & IJ) Secretary of State & immigration judge.
- Other reasons for leaving detention include being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, entering criminal detention, being granted leave to enter or remain in the UK, and detained in error. See the user guide for more details.
In 2020, enforced returns from the UK decreased to 3,327, less than half the number (54% lower) than the previous year, and the lowest number since this series began in 2004. Although the number of enforced returns has been declining since the peak in 2012, as figure 4 shows, the sharp fall in the latest year was related to the impact of the pandemic. There were very few returns in 2020 Q2, immediately following the outbreak. Although numbers did increase slightly in Q3 and Q4, they remained well below levels seen over the same period the previous year – enforced returns between June and December 2020 were less than half the number in the same 6 months a year earlier (1,622 compared with 3,502).
In 2020, there were 4,646 voluntary returns, continuing a downward trend since 2016, as figure 4 shows.
There were 10,035 passengers who were refused entry at port and subsequently departed (referred to as ‘port returns’) in 2020, 46% fewer than in 2019. The number of port returns in 2020 Q2 fell significantly as very few passengers arrived in the UK immediately following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of port returns increased in 2020 Q3 and Q4 as passenger arrivals began to increase, although it remains below ‘pre-pandemic levels. Prior to the pandemic, the slight majority (54% in 2019) of port returns were from UK ports. In 2020, the slight majority (53%) have been from juxtaposed ports.
Figure 4: Returns from the UK, by type of return1, 2010 to 2020
Source: Returns – Ret_D01
- ‘Voluntary returns’ include ‘other verified returns’ which are subject to upward revision (particularly for the last 12 months) as in some cases it can take time to identify people who have left the UK without informing the Home Office.
The longer-term fall in returns is due to a number of factors. As reported in the publication ‘issues raised by people facing return in immigration detention’, nearly three-quarters of people detained within the UK following immigration offences in 2019 raised one or more ‘issue’ likely to preventing return (such as an asylum claim, legal challenge, or referral as a potential victim of modern slavery), up from 63% in 2017. These issues are likely to affect non-EU nationals to a greater extent than EU nationals. The majority of enforced returns occur from detention.
As figure 5 shows, prior to the pandemic, the number of enforced returns of non-EU nationals had fallen from over 13,000 in the year ending June 2013 to 3,717 in 2019. Enforced returns of EU nationals also decreased in recent years, following a peak of 5,023 in the year ending June 2017, reaching 3,476 in 2019.
Figure 5: Enforced returns from the UK, for EU and non-EU nationals1, 2010 to 2020
Source: Returns – Ret_D01
- EU nationals may be returned for abusing or not exercising Treaty rights, or for deportation on public policy grounds such as criminality.
The top 5 nationalities accounted for 63% of the total enforced returns in 2020, and these were: Romania (21%), Albania (17%), Poland (11%), Lithuania (8%) and Brazil (5%). All top 5 nationalities, as for most other nationalities, saw large decreases in enforced returns in 2020 compared with 2019.
Table 2: Top 5 nationalities1,2 who had enforced returns3 from the UK, 2019 and 2020
Source: Returns – Ret_D01
- Top 5 nationalities in the most recent year.
- ‘Other nationalities’ includes all nationalities that do not feature in the top 5 in the latest year.
- ‘Enforced returns’ cover enforced removals from detention, non-detained enforced removals and other returns from detention where the Home Office will have been required to facilitate or monitor the return.
2.1 Returns of foreign national offenders (FNOs)
As figure 6 shows, following a steady increase from 2011 to 2016 (4,761 to 6,437) – due to more FNOs from the EU being returned – FNO returns fell to 5,121 in 2019. In 2020, 2,864 FNOs were returned from the UK, 44% fewer than the previous year (5,121). Although the number of FNO returns has fallen, the reduction has been slightly less than overall enforced returns, which fell 54% over the period.
FNO figures are a subset of the total returns figures and constitute 36% of enforced and voluntary returns, with the majority being enforced returns.
Of the 2,864 FNOs returned from the UK in 2020:
around two-thirds (67%) were EU nationals (1,933)
around one-third (33%) were non-EU nationals (931)
Figure 6: Returns of FNOs1 from the UK, for EU and non-EU nationals, 2010 to 2020
Source: Returns – Summary tables
- An FNO is someone who is not a British citizen and is/was convicted in the UK of any criminal offence, or abroad for a serious criminal offence.
2.2 Asylum related returns
In 2020, there were 1,546 asylum related returns (as defined in section 3.2 below), 53% fewer than the previous year. This continues a downward trend since 2010 when there were 10,663. This sharp fall over the decade differs from non-asylum related returns over the same time period which were relatively stable until 2016 but have been falling since.
Further information on data relating to asylum can be found in the latest Immigration & protection transparency data.
3. About the statistics
3.1 Immigration detention
The statistics in this section show the number of entries into, and departures from, detention for those held solely under immigration powers. One individual may enter or leave detention multiple times in a given period and will therefore have been counted multiple times in the statistics. Statistics on foreign nationals held in prison for criminal offences are published by the Ministry of Justice in ‘Offender management statistics quarterly’.
The detention estate comprises immigration removal centres (IRC), short-term holding facilities (STHF) and pre-departure accommodation (PDA).
Data on those entering detention, by place of detention, relate to the place of initial detention. An individual who moves from one part of the detention estate to another will not have been counted as entering any subsequent place of detention. The data, therefore, do not show the total number of people who entered each part of the detention estate.
Data on those in detention relate to those in detention on the last day of the quarter.
Data on those leaving detention, by place of detention, relate to the place of detention immediately prior to being released. An individual who moves from one part of the detention estate to another has not been counted as leaving each part of the detention estate. The data, therefore, do not show the total number of people who left each part of the detention estate.
From July 2017, data on detention of immigration detainees in prisons are included in the immigration detention figures. Previously, individuals who were detained in prison would have been recorded in the data upon entering the detention estate through an IRC, STHF or PDA; now they are recorded upon entering immigration detention within prison. As a result, the length of detention of those entering prison prior to July 2017 will be recorded from the point at which they entered an IRC, STHF or PDA. Time spent in prison under immigration powers prior to entering an IRC, STHF or PDA is not included in the length of detention figures prior to July 2017.
For those entering detention from July 2017, the length of detention will include time spent in prison under immigration powers prior to entering an IRC, STHF or PDA. Data from 2017 Q3 onwards are therefore not directly comparable with earlier data. Further details of these changes can be found in the user guide.
Following the introduction of the new Immigration Bail in Schedule 10 of the Immigration Bill 2016, the reason for leaving detention ‘Bailed (SoS)’ replaced the existing powers of ‘granted temporary admission/release’ from 15 January 2018, and ‘Bailed (Immigration Judge)’ replaced ‘Bailed’ to differentiate from ‘Bailed (SoS)’. See the user guide for more details of this change.
Data on the number of children entering detention is subject to change. This will be a result of further evidence of an individual’s age coming to light, such as an age assessment.
Data on deaths in detention include any death of an individual while detained under immigration powers in an IRC, STHF, PDA, under escort, or after leaving detention if the death was as a result of an incident occurring while detained or where there is some credible information that the death might have resulted from their period of detention and the Home Office has been informed. The data are included in table Det_05b in the Detention summary tables. Further details can be found in the user guide.
Data on returns are published a quarter behind to allow more time for returns (particularly ‘other verified returns’) to be entered on the system prior to publication, ensuring that the published data is an accurate representation of the number of returns. We routinely revise the previous eight quarters of data as part of each quarterly release. Therefore, data for the most recent 8 quarters should be considered provisional. Further details on the revisions can be found in the returns section of the user guide.
The statistics in this section show the number of returns from the UK. One individual may have been returned more than once in a given period and, if that was the case, would be counted more than once in the statistics.
The Home Office seeks to return people who do not have a legal right to stay in the UK. This includes people who:
enter, or attempt to enter, the UK illegally (including people entering clandestinely and by means of deception on entry)
are subject to deportation action; for example, due to a serious criminal conviction
overstay their period of legal right to remain in the UK
breach their conditions of leave
have been refused asylum
The term ‘deportations’ refers to a legally-defined subset of returns, which are enforced either following a criminal conviction, or when it is judged that a person’s removal from the UK is conducive to the public good. The published statistics refer to enforced returns which include deportations, as well as cases where a person has breached UK immigration laws, and those removed under other administrative and illegal entry powers that have declined to leave voluntarily. Figures on deportations, which are a subset of enforced returns, are not separately available.
Data on voluntary returns are subject to upward revision, so comparisons over time should be made with caution. In some cases, individuals who have been told to leave the UK will not notify the Home Office of their departure from the UK. In such cases, it can take some time for the Home Office to become aware of such a departure and update the system. As a result, data for more recent periods will initially undercount the total number of returns. ‘Other verified returns’ are particularly affected by this.
Asylum-related returns relate to cases where there has been an asylum claim at some stage prior to the return. This will include asylum seekers whose asylum claims have been refused and who have exhausted any rights of appeal, those returned under third-country provisions, as well as those granted asylum/protection but removed for other reasons (such as criminality).
Data on the number of people returned from the UK from detention in the ‘immigration detention’ tables includes those who were refused entry at port in the UK who were subsequently detained and then departed the UK. Data on those returned from detention in the ‘returns’ tables do not include those refused entry at port, and so figures will be lower.
Prior to the UK leaving the EU, certain individuals applying for international protection (asylum) could be returned from the UK to the relevant EU member state that was deemed responsible for examining the application, under the Dublin Regulation. Data on returns, and requests for transfer out of the UK under the Dublin Regulation, by article and country of transfer, are available from the Asylum data tables. Strengthened inadmissibility rules came into effect on 1 January 2021, following the UK’s departure from the EU. Data on cases dealt with under the inadmissibility rules, for January to March 2021, can be found in the How many people do we grant asylum or protection to? section. Further details on the Dublin Regulation and inadmissibility rules are set out in the user guide.
EU nationals may be returned for abusing or not exercising Treaty rights, or deported on public policy grounds (such as criminality).
Eurostat publishes a range of enforcement data from EU member states. These data can be used to make international comparisons.
3.3 The Windrush Scheme
The Windrush generation refers to people from Caribbean countries who were invited by the British government between 1948 and 1971 to migrate to the UK as it faced a labour shortage due to the destruction caused by World War II. Not all of these migrants have documentation confirming their immigration status and, therefore, some may have been dealt with under immigration powers.
Data relating to the Windrush compensation scheme are published as part of the Home Office Transparency data.
4. Data tables
Data referred to here can be found in the following tables:
4.1 Review of immigration enforcement data
The Home Office is reviewing the enforcement data that it publishes to ensure it provides a comprehensive overview of the enforcement system. The Home Office will launch a public consultation to enable users to inform future developments in enforcement statistics in due course.
We welcome your feedback
If you have any comments or suggestions for the development of this report, please provide feedback by emailing MigrationStatsEnquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk. Please include the words ‘PUBLICATION FEEDBACK’ in the subject of your email.
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See section 7 of the ‘About this release’ section for more details.