Record numbers of foreigners are pledging their future to the country while more British nationals than ever before are starting new lives abroad.
The rapidly changing face of the United Kingdom in the 21st century was underlined by official figures showing unprecedented flux in the population.
Last year, 164,635 foreign nationals underwent citizenship ceremonies in which they pledged to respect the rights and freedoms of their new home. It was the highest figure since the ceremonies were introduced four years ago.
Nearly 60 per cent of the new Britons – who earned the entitlement to travel on UK passports – came from Africa or Asia. The largest number of citizenship grants was given to Indians, with 14,490, then Filipinos (10,840), Afghans (10,555), South Africans (8,150) and Pakistanis (8,140).
Separate figures showed that 207,000 British citizens emigrated in 2006, compared with 149,000 from 10 years earlier. About 81,000 UK nationals returned to this country, resulting a net migration over the year of 126,000. Almost half of those leaving had a job or travelled looking for work.
Almost two million UK nationals have settled abroad over the past decade. The most popular destinations were Australia, Spain, France, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Germany.
But more people arrived in the UK last year than left it, adding to the continuing upwards pressure on the population. The largest numbers were of Britons returning from living abroad. The next biggest groups were from Poland, India, Pakistan, China, Australia and South Africa.
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "These figures confirm the pattern of EU migration is like a turnstile, as people come in and out to fill gaps in our workforce."
About 845,000 citizens of the so-called "A8" former communist bloc countries have registered to work since 2004, when the EU expanded. But the influx of eastern Europeans has peaked: 45,000 registered to work in the first three months of this year, a fall of 7,000 compared with the same quarter of 2007.
Home Office statistics also showed 6,595 asylum applications were made over the three months. The figure is the second lowest since the early 1990s, but a 16 per cent rise on the same period the year before. Donna Covey, of the Refugee Council, said: "A drop in asylum applications should only be celebrated if the world has become a safer place."Reuse content