Immigration soars to highest level in years

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The Independent Online

Immigration outstripped the number of people leaving Britain by 237,000 last year, despite a fall in people coming to settle.

A decline in Britons leaving to live abroad meant the net immigration figures was one of the highest on record last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed. But more recent figures pointed to a decline in immigration this year, with the number of eastern European workers registering to work in Britain suffering a sharp fall in the third quarter of 2008.

Home Office statistics showed that only 38,000 eastern European workers applied to work in Britain in July, August and September, down from 57,000 in the same period last year. The fall was mainly due to a slump in the number of Polish workers coming to the country. Officials said they expected net immigration figures to fall this year because of lower migration from eastern Europe.

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration at the think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research, said: "scaremongers spreading panic about immigration fuelling population growth to 70 million fall into the trap of thinking that the next decade will look just like the last. Migration ebbs and flows over time. Immigration boomed when the economy was booming and is likely to slow naturally as the economy slows."

But Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary said: "These figures betray a Government that has completely lost control over the last 10 years."

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said the figures showed the merits of the Government's new points-based immigration system. He said "Centre stage is our points system which means only those we need - and no more - can come here to work and study, and gives us the flexibility to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole."