Net migration to UK rises as fewer Britons leave

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Net migration to the UK rose to 215,000 in the year to March as the number of Britons leaving to live abroad fell to a 10-year low, figures showed today.

An estimated 140,000 British citizens emigrated in 2009, the lowest since 1999 and down from 173,000 in 2008, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The figures will pose further problems for the Government as it seeks to fulfil its pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015.



To fulfil the Government's pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015, Home Secretary Theresa May has said all routes to entry, including student, work and family visas, as well as the link between temporary visas and settlement, will have to be tackled.



The number of migrant workers coming to Britain from outside the EU will be cut by a fifth and capped at 21,700 from next year.



Students coming to the UK to study a course below degree level - around 120,000 last year - will be targeted, as will those abusing the study route by using it as a means to stay on in the UK.



Visas for highly skilled workers without a job offer will effectively be scrapped and replaced by up to 1,000 visas for those with "exceptional talent", which will include sports people and scientists.



There will be a new minimum salary of £40,000 for firms using intra-company transfers (ICTs) to bring their own people into the UK for more than a year to do specific jobs, but employees staying for less than 12 months will be exempt, prompting fears that firms will seek to exploit the loophole.



Family visas will become more selective, with a minimum standard of English being introduced as a requirement for those applying for marriage visas.



The Government will also focus on the tens of thousands of people who come to the UK each year to fill a temporary skills shortage and end up staying, with settlement becoming "a privilege to be earned, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in".



An estimated 368,000 people emigrated from the UK in 2009, down from 427,000 in 2008.



Along with the drop in Britons, the number of other EU citizens leaving fell to 109,000 from 134,000 in 2008.



The number of non-EU citizens leaving was 119,000, a similar level to 2008.



The fall in numbers of Britons emigrating was driven mostly by a 25% decrease in British men leaving the UK, the ONS said.



The number of British women emigrating remained steady at 60,000.



Most of those leaving the UK last year left for work reasons, with one in three saying they had a definite job to go to and one in four saying they were looking for work.



The number of emigrants to Poland halved between 2008 and 2009, down from 50,000 to 25,000, the ONS figures showed.



Australia remained the most popular destination for emigrants from the UK, with 56,000 people heading there last year, the same number as in 2008.



But the number of people coming to Britain from outside the EU remained virtually unchanged last year at 303,000, driving net migration up to 198,000 from 163,000 in 2008.



The number of student visas, a key target of the Government's proposals to bring net migration down, was also up, rising 16% to 355,065 in the year to September.



Immigration minister Damian Green said: "These statistics once again show why we must tighten our immigration system in order to reduce net migration to manageable levels.



"We aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands by taking action on all routes into the UK.



"The annual limit that we announced this week will ensure we continue to attract the brightest and the best while we reduce economic migration through tiers one and two by more than a fifth compared with last year.



"We will shortly be launching a consultation on student visas, so as with economic migration we refocus on the areas which add the greatest value and where evidence of abuse is limited, protecting our world class universities."

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