The Home Office is paying staff bonuses of up to £2,500 in an attempt to reduce the growing asylum backlog.
The move, revealed to MPs on Wednesday, is designed to combat the huge churn in asylum staff by offering them a £1,500 retention bonus if they stay for a year and £2,500 if they remain for two.
It came as Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, admitted to the Home Affairs Committee that the current asylum processing rate was “far too low” with a backlog of more than 120,000 applications taking, on average, some 480 days to complete.
Only four per cent of the asylum applications from 2021 have been processed. "I agree there is far too much delay in the system. It is too slow,” she said.
Asylum caseworkers are taking on average one week to process just one application - and Mrs Braverman said the aim was to triple that to three a week by May, with an “ambition” to quadruple it.
Reports of 'inexperienced' staff handling applications
It came amid allegations in a BBC documentary on Tuesday that the Home Office is blighted by delays with asylum claims, as “inexperienced” and “low-paid staff” were being hired to handle applications.
Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, admitted the retention of asylum case workers was “an issue” as they were among the lowest paid civil servants.
Mrs Braverman refused to commit to a timeframe for when the asylum backlog would start falling. She did promise new targets, a streamlining of the process and an increase in staff from the current 1,000 to 1,500 although she admitted the staff attrition rate could bring this down to 1,300.
She told MPs that “fixing” the asylum backlog was one priority but she also pledged to stem the surge in Channel migrants with a new “legal framework” to ensure “anyone coming to the UK illegally will not be able to stay here indefinitely in some cases or a very long period of time while your asylum claim is being processed.”
She admitted: “We have failed to control our borders. That’s why I and the Prime Minister are absolutely determined to fix this problem.”
MPs were told that just 36 Albanian migrants who reached the UK in small boats across the Channel had been returned to the Balkan state since a fast-track deportation scheme had been introduced six weeks ago.
Dan O’Mahoney, the Channel threat commander, said Albanians were exploiting modern slavery and asylum laws to remain in the UK, with a record 2,916 having claimed to be victims of trafficking. He said just 12 per cent of male Albanian migrants who claimed asylum were successful.
The 12,000-plus Albanians who have reached the UK comprise about 30 per cent of the record 40,000 migrants who have crossed the Channel in small boats this year.
Mrs Braverman said: “People are coming here and making spurious claims about asylum and modern slavery. They are gaining and buying time in the UK at the cost of the British taxpayer so we need to change some of our legal frameworks.”
She added: “We want to make it easier to remove people from the UK and we want to try to avoid these problems we are facing at the moment that people are able to stay here while their claims are pending.
“That’s why it is so important about the Rwanda scheme. Once Rwanda is operationalised, we will be able to remove people and their claims will be considered abroad.”
The Rwanda scheme - where migrants are sent to the central African state on a one-way ticket to have their asylum claims assessed there - has been on hold after a High Court challenge over its legality. A verdict is expected before Christmas.
Mr Rycroft admitted on Wednesday he was still unsure whether the Rwanda scheme - for which the Government has paid the central African state £140 million - was value for money. He told MPs it remained the case that it "could be value for money and it could not be".
At the start of Wednesday's hearing, Mrs Braverman refused to discuss what legal advice she had received in relation to the unlawful detention of migrants at the Manston processing centre over the statutory 24 hours that they were allowed to be held there..
She denied claims that she ignored the advice and told MPs: “I have always taken it into account, read it, listened to it and borne it in mind when decisions have to be made.”
She said she had had to balance the risks of the migrants facing destitution if they were released from the centre without accommodation and the legal time limits on detention.
“It is becoming incredibly difficult to source accommodation, suitable shelter for the unprecedented levels of people coming into this country," she said.
She told the committee the Home Office was facing five potential judicial reviews over the alleged unlawful detention of migrants in the centre.
Asked who was at fault for the Manston crisis, Mrs Braverman told the committee: "I'll tell you who's at fault, it's very clear. It's the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally exploiting vulnerable people and trying to abuse the generosity of the British people."