UK Politics

Big increase in net migration to UK

Net UK migration increased to 212,000 in the year to September 2013, pushing it further away from the Conservatives' target of below 100,000, according to official estimates.

The Office for National Statistics said the net flow - the numbers moving to the UK minus the numbers leaving it - rose from 154,000 in the previous year.

The increase has been driven by a big growth in the number of European Union citizens coming to Britain.

But No 10 said its aim had not changed.

Asked if David Cameron stood by his pledge to reduce net migration to under 100,000 by 2015, the PM's official spokesman said: "That is absolutely the objective and we are going to very much keep working towards that.

"We are putting in place what we believe are the right measures that go towards meeting that objective."

There was a rise in new arrivals from Poland, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Some 24,000 citizens of Romania and Bulgaria also arrived in the year to September 2013, nearly three times the 9,000 who arrived in the previous year, the Office for National Statistics said in a report. About 70% came to work, while 30% came to study.

Official figures for how many Romanians and Bulgarians have arrived since working restrictions were lifted on 1 January have yet to be released.

'Pull factor'

Some 532,000 people migrated to the UK in the year ending September, up from the 497,000 people who arrived during the previous year, while 320,000 left the country, down from the 343,000 the previous year.

The number of EU citizens arriving in the UK rose to 209,000 from 149,000 the previous year, the ONS said.

But immigration of non-EU citizens saw a statistically significant decrease, to 244,000 from 269,000 the previous year.

The overall increase of 58,000 in the net migration figure will come as a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May's aim of cutting it to the "tens of thousands" by the time of the next election in May 2015.

But the figures are still down on the levels of net migration reached in the early days of the coalition - revised ONS figures suggest it reached 263,000 in the year to September 2011.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire insisted the government had not abandoned its target and its focus "absolutely remains on bringing net migration down to those sustainable levels".

He said the immigration flows that the government had some control over, from outside the EU, were continuing to come down.

He told the BBC: "It is down to levels we have not seen, in terms of net migration from outside the EU, since 1998.

"But what it does show is a very significant increase in migration from the EU itself - doubling - and that's why we remain focused on dealing with the abuse of free movement and also addressing some of those benefit and welfare factors that may be a pull factor to attract people to come to the UK."

'Smoke and mirrors'

He said the government would continue to push at an EU level for restrictions on the free movement of workers.

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government's targets were "in tatters" and its policy was "a mess".

She added: "David Cameron promised, 'No ifs, no buts,' to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, yet these figures show net migration has gone up and is now more than twice that figure.

"Only five months ago, Theresa May said that the government had been 'so successful' they should 'get out there and shout about it'. There will be no shouting from ministers today."

But Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable welcomed the increase in net migration to the UK, saying the target to reduce it to tens of thousands each year had been set by the Conservatives, not the coalition government.

He said: "Actually it's good news because the reason immigration is going up is because fewer British people are emigrating and surely that's a good thing - people are getting jobs here."

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who campaigns for Britain's exit from the EU, said: "These latest figures show just how out of control the government is when it comes to controlling immigration in and out of the UK.

"It is utterly 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. It's all smoke and mirrors."

Net migration fell significantly in 2012, as the coalition government's crackdown on "bogus" student visas and tighter restrictions on non-EU migrants took effect.

But it began rising again last year, driven by a drop in the number of British citizens emigrating to other countries and an influx of job seekers from struggling EU nations - especially Spain, Portugal and Greece.

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