Britain's immigration rate is decreasing and we are far from being "swamped", according to an official report presented to the Foreign Office last week. The new figures, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, suggest the Government is starting to get immigration under control. They undermine gloomy warnings of "overcrowding" made by pressure groups and parties including the British National Party.
Applications for British citizenship have also shown a marked decline in recent years, as economic turmoil and government shake-ups have had an impact on the numbers attempting to settle in the UK.
The figures undermine the claims of critics such as the BNP leader Nick Griffin (below), who last week told a BBC Question Time audience that "it's time to shut the door because this country is overcrowded". Mr Griffin, ridiculed on the programme for his views on race, homosexuality and Islam, responded to criticism the following day by complaining that London – where the programme was filmed – had been "ethnically cleansed" and was "no longer British".
Despite a broadly negative response to his comments, he appeared to hit a nerve when he accused the Government and the media of failing to address the issue of people's concern about immigration. One poll taken after his appearance on Question Time found that more than one in five people would "seriously consider" voting for his party. The level of potential support YouGov recorded for the BNP was more than three times the 6.2 per cent it secured in this June's European Parliament ballot – its best-ever showing in a national election.
Concern over the issue continues to rise: in the decade up to 2004, the pollsters Mori found the percentage of adults saying immigration was the biggest issue facing Britain had risen from 5 per cent to 30 per cent.
But the new figures, compiled by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggest that, while immigration into the UK remains high compared with the rest of Europe, the problem is not as acute as many believe. Above all, officials point out that the rate of immigration into Britain is slowing, while the rate of emigration is rising. The number of foreign nationals entering Britain fell from 460,000 in 2006 to 441,000 in 2008, while, during the same period, the total of foreigners leaving rose from 173,000 to 237,000. The number of citizenship applications granted fell by 35,000, to 130,000, in a single year up to 2008.
"There's a lot of concern among so-called ordinary people about high levels of recent immigration," said Tim Finch, head of migration at IPPR. "But it's striking that people are keen not to articulate that as being the fault of immigrants. The perception that the Government hasn't been controlling it is what's upsetting them."
However, the increased prominence given to the race/immigration issue appears to have emboldened some people to use it as an excuse for conflict: after a general decline, racist attacks have gone up by 20,000 this year. According to Home Office reports, in 2006-07, 61,262 racist incidents were reported to the police, an increase of 3.7 per cent over the previous year, and a 28 per cent increase over the past five years. Approximately half the police forces in England and Wales reported an increase in racially and religiously motivated incidents.
Yet Mr Finch insists that the people he has interviewed are eager to point out that they are not motivated by race "or not wanting to live in a multicultural society".
He added: "It suits the far right to paint this scary picture, but that's not the case. The numbers have changed Britain, but there hasn't been a negative impact on many areas of society because of immigration."
The IoS's snapshot of people across a range of races and cultures appears to confirm this. Despite the furore over Mr Griffin and his party, Britain's experience of race relations is an overwhelmingly positive one. Every day, across Britain, people of all races interact routinely, naturally. The stories on the following pages represent the majority, rather than an unhappy minority.
Myth and reality: Sorting the facts from the fiction on immigration
Britain isn't British any more
The myth: Nick Griffin claimed that "we, the indigenous British people, will become an ethnic minority in our own country well within 60 years – and most likely sooner".
The reality: The Celtic Britons were conquered by the Romans, who were replaced by the Anglo-Saxons after they left; followed by the Vikings, the Normans, the Italians, more Germans, the Irish, Jews, Indians, West Indians...
Immigrants are responsible for violent crime
The myth: Many newspaper articles claim crime is caused by immigration. The Daily Mail said in August that one in every five killers is an immigrant. In 2008 the Daily Express quoted the chief constable of Kent, Mike Fuller, as blaming "migration surges" for a 35 per cent rise in violent crime in the county.
The reality: Over a three-year period ending in 2006-07, the Government reported 23 racially motivated homicides. In Scotland and N Ireland, attacks on new immigrants from within the EU continued to be reported at a high rate. Racist and religiously motivated offences totalled 39,643 in 2007-08, the last year for which UK statistics are available. It was 21,750 ten years ago.
Migrants are taking our jobs
The myth: "Nearly all the jobs created in the UK since 2001 have gone to immigrants – not British-born workers," claimed Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migration Watch.
The reality: The economic forecasters Oxford Economics said: "Migrant workers now account for 11 per cent of UK jobs. Within Europe, the UK has a lower overall migrant employment share than many developed countries, including Spain, Germany, Ireland and Sweden."
Immigrants get priority housing
The myth: "Well-meaning welfare programmes have been exploited to become nothing more than a free handout to scroungers, foreign and local," said the BNP.
The reality: A study for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in July found that 1.8 per cent of social tenants had moved to Britain within the past five years. Nearly 90 per cent were British-born.
Racist crime is on the rise
The myth: A relentless and increasing tide of racist attacks is sweeping through Britain, as the BNP and its supporters become emboldened by electoral success, according to anti-fascist campaigners.
The reality: According to Home Office reports, in 2006-07, 61,262 racist incidents were reported to the police, an increase of 3.7 per cent over the previous year. Among these, there were 42,551 racially or religiously aggravated offences, representing a 2.6 per cent increase over the previous year.
Muslims want sharia law in UK
The myth: "There are a lot of things that happen in Trafalgar Square that should not happen – the drugs, the alcohol," said the radical Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary. "Under sharia law it would be a different environment and atmosphere."
The reality: A British Muslims for Secular Democracy spokesman said: "We are proud of the heritage of this country and British heroes like Nelson and Churchill have made this country the place it is today. It reflects badly on the entire Muslim community when this group does these very aggressive activities."
London has been ethnically cleansed
The myth: BNP leader Nick Griffin argued that the Question Time audience was hostile because London had been "ethnically cleansed".
The reality: London is a cosmopolitan world city with residents from 243 different countries. Nearly 70 per cent of those are white, 60 per cent describe themselves as white British, and 70 per cent were born in the UK.
Britain faces immigration crisis
The myth: Roger Martin, chair of the think tank Optimum Population Trust, said: "Britain's population increase is out of control; we are on course for a high-density, low-quality future."
The reality: Before the recession, the number of migrants coming to Britain was roughly on a par with the number leaving Britain. The ONS immigration statistics for the year to December 2008 showed a total of 395,000 people emigrated, up 24 per cent on the year before. They included 237,000 non-Britons, many Eastern Europeans.
Money is being wasted on translation services
The myth: "Translation has been used too frequently and without thought," said the then communities secretary Ruth Kelly in 2007, and people should be encouraged to learn English.
The reality: The former head of the CRE, Trevor Phillips, said: "Translation is a way of helping people in transition to integrate into our society."
Kids don't speak English in class
The myth: According to Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch: "There are more than 300 primary schools in which over 70 per cent of pupils have English as a second language."
The reality: Figures from the DfE in 2007 show that in inner London primary schools, 53.4 per cent spoke a dialect other than English as their main language, while in secondary schools it was 49.3.