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Increase in net UK migration causes headache for David Cameron and Theresa May

Increase in net flow recorded as 30,000 fewer migrants left Britain

Net migration into Britain has seen a slight rise as fewer British and EU citizens emigrated from the country, new figures are showing.

The increase was noted as Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May said they wanted to reduce net migration from non-EU countries to less than 100,000 before the next election in 2015.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that approximately 176,000 migrants entered the UK in the year to December 2012, up from 153,000 in the year to September 2012.

The increase was driven by a drop in the number of migrants leaving Britain, which fell from 351,000 to 321,000, while the number of immigrants arriving in the country also decreased from 566,000 to 497,000.

The number of immigrants arriving for study in the UK is now similar to the estimated number of people arriving to the UK for work, the ONS added.

Around 180,000 immigrants came to the UK for formal study in the year to December 2012, compared to 232,000 the previous year.

The number of visas issued fell 4 per cent to 501,840 in the year ending June 2013, however, this was slightly up on the 499,641 visas issued in the year ending March 2013.

Within the figures, this included 204,469 visas issued for the purpose of study, a fall of 5 per cent.

And 179,000 people migrated to the UK for work, which was down from 184,000 in the previous year.

There has been a "statistically significant" decrease in the net migration of citizens from outside the European Union (EU) to 157,000 in the year ending December 2012 from 204,000 the previous year, the ONS said.

This figure was driven by a drop in immigration of non-EU citizens, particularly in the number of citizens of New Commonwealth countries, such as African countries Botswana, Kenya and Malawi and Indian subcontinent countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

The drop in New Commonwealth citizens immigrating to the UK - from 151,000 in the year ending December 2011 to 97,000 in the year ending December 2012 - is as a result of fewer people arriving to study in the UK from those countries.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said net migration is down by a third since it peaked in 2010, and the Government had "tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife"

"Our reforms are working and are building an immigration system that works in the national interest," he said.

He added that the reforms are still encouraging the "brightest and best" to come here to study and work".

"Immigration from outside the EU is now at its lowest level for 14 years. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for our world-class universities, and an increase in the number of visas issued to skilled workers.

"We are committed to bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.

A total of 58,000 immigrants arrived from countries which joined the EU in 2004, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, down from 77,000 the previous year.

Additional reporting by Press Association