Enforced returns had been in decline for years since a 2012 peak, and dipped significantly when the country went through pandemic lockdowns. The Home Office deported 3,860 people last year – 39 percent more than the 2,780 forcibly removed in 2021.
Most immigration offenders, however, leave willingly when instructed to do so. A total of 10,710 people returned to their homeland voluntarily last year, accounting for 28 percent of all returns.
Over the long term, the Home Office attributes the fall in enforced and voluntary returns to “tighter screening of passengers prior to travel” and improvements in visa processing. The recent uptick accompanies the rise in small boat Channel crossings, which rose by 60 percent to hit just under 50,000 last year.
The vast majority (62 percent) of returns occur at ports or airports when regular travellers simply don’t have the right documentation to be allowed to enter the UK. The 23,378 count represents the highest number of port returns in over a decade.
The data strongly suggest this is owed to changing requirements for EU nationals trying to enter the UK. Before the Brexit withdrawal was formalised, in 2020 port returns of EU nationals accounted for only 17 percent of the total – in the year ending September 2022 they made up 61 percent.