Net migration to UK in 2010 at record high
Annual net migration to the UK in 2010 was 252,000 - the highest calendar year figure on record, figures show.
The data from the Office for National Statistics showed immigration remained steady at 591,000, but there was a drop in the number of people leaving the UK.
Provisional data from the ONS for the 12 months to the end of March suggests net migration has since fallen slightly to 245,000.
The government has pledged to cut net migration to tens of thousands by 2015.
The figures show the emigration of British citizens was at its lowest since 1998 at 136,000.
Overall, emigration was at its lowest for 10 years with just 339,000 people leaving the UK.
Net migration figures 2010
- Immigrants: 591,000
- Emigrants: 339,000
- Net: 252,000
- Provisional data for March 2011 shows net falling to 245,000
Emigration for work fell to its lowest level since 2006, reflecting the challenging global economic environment. The previous record high for net migration was 245,000 in 2004 - although one mid-year estimate topped that the following year.
The ONS figures show that net migration of people from the eight central and eastern European EU nations increased. Education remains the most common reason for people to come to the UK from all parts of the world. Some 238,000 people arrived to study in the UK during 2010, the highest calendar year figure on record, although provisional figurse for March 2011 suggest it may have begun to fall.
The government's net migration target - to cut the total to tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament - is the balance between the number of people who come to live in the UK for the long-term and the number who are leaving.
Downing Street confirmed the government remained committed to its target. Immigration Minister Damian Green said the figures showed the government was right to take "swift action to overhaul the immigration system".
Mr Green said: "Latest quarterly figures show a decrease in the number of student and work visas issued compared to a year earlier - an early sign that our policies are starting to take effect.
The government has set a clear target on net migration to the UK - but these new figures show how tough it is going to be to meet it.
Not only does the figure show a record calendar year high, the provisional data for March 2011 shows a recent fall has only been 3%.
Ministers know their policies will have to achieve much greater falls and there are only so many levers they can pull.
They have no control over emigration or the very rapid changes in movements inside the European Single Market. EU citizens account for 30% of arrivals to the UK - Polish is now the largest non-British nationality in the country.
But ministers are adamant their pressure on immigration from outside the EU will make progress and "glimmers of effect" can be seen already in falls in student and work visas. This one will go all the way to the wire.
"The latest net migration figures are also encouraging, showing a fall since the recent peak in September 2010, but we are clear there is much more to be done.
"That's why I will be announcing reforms to settlement and the family route which will help bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands over the course of this Parliament."
But experts at Oxford University's Migration Observatory said that Thursday's figures showed the government would have to cut non-EU migration by 70% to meet its target, unless fewer Europeans arrived and more people left.
Dr Martin Ruhs, director of the Migration Observatory, said: "This is not the news that the Government wanted to hear. The latest figures tell us that EU-net migration, which the Government cannot control, is increasing. This means even deeper cuts to non-EU net-migration are necessary to reach the target of the tens of thousands.
Dr Ruhs added: "Focussing on net migration as a single metric to demonstrate the success or failure of policy is problematic as it makes the government hostage to fortune."
Labour said the government had made a "no ifs no buts" pledge to slash net migration.
Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: "These figures just go to show you can't trust what this government and this home secretary say about immigration.
"The latest net migration figures up to March 2011 show a 10% increase on the same period last year.
"And despite the protestations from the home secretary that her summer 'pilot' of relaxed controls was a success, we now know the number of non-asylum seekers caught and refused entry at UK ports went down by 12% this summer compared to last summer.
"The Government needs to come clean immediately about what really happened in this pilot, and tell us what estimates they have on the number of people who walked through our borders."
Sir Andrew Green of campaign group Migrationwatch UK said: "At over a quarter of a million in 2010, net migration was the highest it has ever been.
"It was more than five times the level of 1997 when Labour came to power. It is absolutely vital to get this down to less than 40,000 if we are to keep our population below 70 million."