The number of people leaving the country hit a record high last year, driven by Eastern European workers returning home, according to official statistics released yesterday.
Arrivals from Eastern Europe were down by nearly a quarter in the year to March as job prospects were hit by the recession, but the number of immigrants rose, with more than 500,000 people entering the country.
More recent figures suggested that immigrants from the eight countries which joined the EU in 2004 registering for work fell even more dramatically this year. In the year to September the total was down 41 per cent to 106,000.
Overall, migration both in and out added 163,000 to the population last year. Some 590,000 immigrants arrived, a figure which has barely changed since 2004, and 427,000 departed. The number of non-Britons leaving the country has risen by just under 50 per cent from 169,000 in 2007 to 255,000 last year.
Home Office minister, Phil Woolas, said the figures showed immigrants were coming to the UK to work and then returning home. He said: "Our new flexible, points-based system gives us greater control over those coming to work or study from outside Europe, ensuring that only those which Britain need can come."
But the Tories called for an annual limit on the number of non-EU workers allowed into the country. Shadow immigration minister, Damian Green, said: "To make the points-based system effective in cutting immigration to sensible levels, we need to have an annual limit on the numbers coming here."