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Net immigration steady at 250,000


Net migration to Britain remained steady at 250,000 in the year to last June, official figures showed today.

The number of people arriving in the country, less the number of people leaving, has remained steady since it peaked at 255,000 in the year to September 2010, but is up from 235,000 in the year to June 2010, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The Government has pledged to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015.

Long-term immigration to the UK in the 12 months to June last year was 593,000, up from 582,000 in the year to June 2010, estimated figures published by the ONS showed.

And long-term emigration from the UK in the same period was 343,000, similar to the 347,000 seen in the year to June 2010.

Study remains the most common reason for migrating to the UK, with 242,000 students coming in the year to June 2011.

But the number of people leaving the UK came down to 343,000 from a peak of 427,000 in 2008, the ONS said.

The figures also showed a record 170,000 people came to the UK from so-called New Commonwealth countries such as India and Pakistan, with two-thirds of these coming for study alone.

New Commonwealth countries include African Commonwealth countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe), Indian subcontinent countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and other Commonwealth countries in the Asian, Caribbean, and Oceania regions.

Asylum applications rose 11% last year to 19,804, compared with 17,916 in 2010, other figures published today by the Home Office showed.

The figures for every quarter last year were higher than 12 months earlier, mainly due to an increase in applications from Pakistan, Libya and Iran, officials said.

And the number of people removed or departing voluntarily from the UK last year fell 13% to 52,526 from 60,244 during 2010.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "Our reforms are starting to take effect.

"Home Office figures from the second half of last year show a significant decrease in the number of student and work visas issued, an early indicator for the long-term direction of net migration.

"Net migration remains too high but, as the ONS states, it is now steady, having fallen from a recent peak in the year to September 2010.

"This Government remains committed to bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands over the course of this Parliament."

The ONS figures cover only the first year of the coalition Government in office.

Matt Cavanagh, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank, said: "Reducing immigration is a legitimate goal, but politicians should be wary of promising what they can't deliver.

"There is also a risk that ministers will be tempted to take more extreme measures in pursuit of their elusive target, including on those areas of immigration which are most important to our economy, and which surveys show the public are less bothered about, including skilled workers and overseas students."

The ONS figures published today also showed that 690,000 national insurance numbers were allocated to non-UK nationals in the 12 months to September last year, up 11% from the 623,000 in the previous year.

Mr Cavanagh said these figures were "one way of estimating the total number coming here to work" and were "likely to reinforce widespread fears that immigration is exacerbating unemployment".

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaign group Migration Watch UK, said: "These figures are disappointing.

"They show that the immigration supertanker has been brought to a halt but massive efforts by the Government will be essential if their manifesto promise is to be kept.

"For example, the student visa system, which admits half a million non-EU students a year, needs a much more effective means of testing whether the applicants are genuine and intend to return home."

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: "On net migration, rather than the Prime Minister's 'no ifs, no buts' pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, this data shows it's still going in the wrong direction.

"We need honesty and competence from this Government on immigration. Instead we get tough rhetoric not matched by the reality on the ground. The country deserves better than that."

He added: "These figures show the Government's complete failure to combat illegal immigration.

"This Government is deporting fewer foreign criminals, stopping fewer people who shouldn't be in the UK from coming in, and removing fewer people who should not be here. That is a serious failure of this Tory-led Government."