Emigration boom as record numbers opt to live abroad

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The Independent Online

A record number of people left Britain last year heading for a new life amid evidence that the UK population is rapidly shifting due to migration and a rising birth rate.

More than 385,000 people, including just under 200,000 British citizens, became long-term emigrants in 2006 - the highest number to head for greener pastures since data was first collected in 1991.

But while most of those leaving for foreign climes carried British passports, the figures collected by the Office for National Statistics also showed a large increase in the number of foreign nationals leaving the country.

The number of non-British European Union citizens emigrating tripled to 62,000, suggesting that recent arrivals from eastern Europe are choosing to return home.

The trend would be in contrast to claims that most migrant workers from countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania intend to stay permanently in Britain.

Separate figures released last month showed a decrease in the number of migrants registering to work, suggesting that inward migration may be about to peak.

The ONS figures also showed a significant decrease in immigration into Britain. Some 574,000 people arrived as long-term migrants, a fall of 25,000 on 2005. Net immigration was 179,000.

The statistical bulletin did not include reasons why people choose to emigrate or their destination.

But data from previous years shows Australia, Spain, France, America and New Zealand are the favourite destinations for those heading abroad, accounting for 318,000 emigrants between them.

Migration experts said the globalisation of the world economy and the lifestyle benefits of other countries, not least an improved climate, were driving the exodus. Skilled workers, in particular nurses, teachers and computer specialists, are being sought by many countries.

Agencies which help people relocate have reported a rapid increase in enquiries about moving abroad during this summer's soggy weather.

Liam Clifford, head of a visa consultancy website, said: "The past 20 years have seen such massive changes in globalisation. It has taken off and countries are competing for skills."

The statistics offered a further insight into the changing shape of the British population. The number of people in the UK grew by 0.6 per cent to 60,587,000 with an increase in the birth rate contributing more to the total than inward migration.

The number of births last year stood at 734,000, compared with 663,000 in 2001. A quarter of babies born in Britain have a foreign mother or father, a rise from 20 per cent in 2001.

Experts said the birth rate was expected to continue to rise. An ONS spokesman said: "All the evidence is that the figure will continue. I think the increase in births is associated with people who are residents in the UK."

The statistics also provided evidence of Britain's ageing population. The number of people aged 85 or more grew by six per cent to 1.24 million, the largest growth of any demographic group.

Population figures

60,587,000 the population of the UK in mid-2006, an increase of 349,000

385,000 the number of people who left Britain, nearly 50,000 more than the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1991

574,000 the number of migrants arriving in the UK, a fall of 25,000 on 2005. Net migration was 189,000, a fall of 73,000 on the previous year

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