Asylum applications to the UK continue to fall - but a target on removals remains to be met.
Latest figures from the Home Office show asylum applications for the final three months of 2005 were down a quarter on the year before.
Some 6,165 people applied for asylum between October and December 2005, part of a long-term fall in numbers.
Ministers say a key target on the removal of failed asylum seekers will be met this winter.
Of the 5,645 initial decisions in the three months to the end of the year, some 78% of applications were rejected.
Some 10% of applicants were deemed to be refugees while a further 12% were given discretionary leave.
According to the figures, the Home Office is now processing more cases than new ones are arriving, with 27,495 decisions taken in 2005 - about 2,000 more than the number of new applications during the year.
The nationalities most commonly applying for asylum were people from Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, China and Somalia, all countries with well documented records of human rights abuses or political violence.
In September 2004, amid political pressure over immigration, Tony Blair said that by the end of 2005 monthly removals of failed asylum applicants should exceed the number of new arrivals found to have no case.
Last year the Home Office admitted it would need until February 2006 to meet the target.
The latest figures show the Home Office hit the target in November before marginally missing it again in December. Across the whole quarter, some 4,415 cases were rejected, while 4,085 applicants were deported.
Immigration minister Tony McNulty said the figures showed asylum applications were now at their lowest for more than decade.
"Intake is falling at a faster rate than elsewhere in Europe, reflecting the package of measures we have put in place, such as immigration controls at ports across the channel and legislation to target abuse," said Mr McNulty.
"We have made significant progress towards our target of removing more failed asylum seekers on a monthly basis than there are unfounded claims and I am confident that we are close to achieving it."
Ministers have focused on increasing the rate of removals and expanding the means of getting people to leave voluntarily, in order to meet Mr Blair's target. As a whole, removals are up about a fifth on a year ago.
In November 2005 the Home Office deported the first group of failed asylum applicants back to Iraq despite concern from campaigners.
Some 375 failed asylum seekers from Iraq returned home in the fourth quarter of 2005, although not all of them were forcibly removed.
While the UN's refugee agency says most of Iraq is dangerous and returns could exacerbate tensions, it added that some people could safely return to northern Kurdish areas, providing they had security, housing and family support.
Campaigners say a key test for the government is not how fast it deals with asylum seekers, but how fairly.
While the number of appeals fell in 2005, almost a fifth of applicants were found to have been wrongly refused asylum - 6,080 people.
Some 78% of rejected asylum seekers from Zimbabwe were found to have a case in the last quarter, partly thanks to an October court ruling which effectively prevented the government from deporting to the country.
Some 43% of Somalis initially told they had no case for asylum were allowed to stay on appeal, along with 39% of applicants from Eritrea and 40% from some areas of the former Yugoslavia.
Habib Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said that while it welcomed the government's statements on the economic benefit of migration, asylum seekers had been criminalised.
"Since last year's immigration act, asylum seekers can be penalised for not having documents despite the fact that for people fleeing human rights persecution official documentation may be difficult to come by," he said.
"The [act] has sent out the message that failed asylum-seeking families are punished by destitution and their children can be removed. Detention and electronic tagging of asylum applicants is widespread."