New figures show steep rise in net migration to UK

Published on Thursday, 27 February 2014 11:34
Written by Daniel Mason

Net migration to the UK increased to more than 200,000 in the year to September 2013, the Office for National Statistics said today, despite a government pledge to reduce the figure to tens of thousands by the time of the next general election.

An estimated 532,000 long-term migrants came to the UK and 320,000 left, resulting in a net inward flow of 212,000. The ONS said it was a "statistically significant increase" on the previous year, when net immigration was 154,000.

David Cameron previously said he wanted net migration to be below 100,000 by 2015.

The increase was driven by a rise in the number of migrants entering the UK from elsewhere in the EU. According to the ONS figures, 209,000 EU citizens arrived in the UK in the 12 months to September 2013, up from 149,000 the previous year.

In particular there was a rise in the number of people coming from Poland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Meanwhile 24,000 arrived from Romania and Bulgaria – with 70% coming to work and 30% to study. The data covers a period before restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants were lifted last month.

Immigration from outside the EU was down to 244,000, compared with 269,000 a year earlier. The ONS said this was down to fewer people coming to the UK for formal study.

James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, said: "Our reforms have cut non-EU migration to its lowest level since 1998 and there are now 82,000 fewer people arriving annually from outside the EU than when this government came to power.

"And overall figures are also well down from when we first came to government in 2010 – with nearly 70,000 fewer migrants coming to the UK."

He added: "We cannot impose formal immigration controls on EU migrants, so we are focusing on cutting the abuse of free movement between EU member states and seeking to address the factors that drive European immigration to Britain."

Labour's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government's target was "in tatters". "This gap between promises and delivery, and between rhetoric and reality further undermines trust in the government's immigration policy," she said.

But Tim Finch, from the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank, said the government was wrong to focus on reducing the overall immigration numbers "at all costs".

"It makes little sense to try to drive down immigration across the board because some forms of migration are clearly beneficial to the UK economy, like foreign students and high skilled workers," he said.

"So it is time to move away from an obsession with net migration and to take a more differentiated and sophisticated approach to managing migration and its impacts. Above all, the government should focus on working harder to make sure that migrants integrate into the UK."

The leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, said it was "pointless" setting immigration targets "when you can't even decide who comes in to this country".

"Until we end the open door immigration policy with the EU and take back full control over our borders nothing can really be done," he said.

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