More permits planned as number of immigrants reaches new record

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The Independent Online

More people than ever before settled in Britain last year and a record number left the country, government figures showed yesterday.

Some 513,000 people settled in Britain in 2002 compared with 480,000 in 2001, (an increase of 7 per cent) and 359,000 moved abroad compared with 308,000 in 2001, (a 17 per cent rise).

The number of legal immigrants has almost doubled in nine years, with recent increases partly caused by the higher number of temporary work permits issued to foreign nationals. In 2002, 136,000 permits were granted. About 175,000 are to be issued this year. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has signalled that permits will be granted to help tackle staff shortages, particularly in the construction, hospitality and agriculture sectors.

Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, said: "These figures show the dynamic nature of migration in the 21st century, with increasing numbers of people on the move around the globe."

Mr Blunkett faced anger yesterday after saying there was "no obvious limit" to the number of immigrants who could settle in the UK. He declined to say how many people he thought Britain could comfortably hold, insisting that it had always been "a crowded, vigorous island".

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Blunkett's comments that there is 'no obvious limit' to the number of legal migrants are likely to be seized on by political extremists. There is widespread concern that his latest spin on migration is a ploy to mask his failure to cut the number of illegal immigrants."

Sir Andrew Green, of the pressure group Migration Watch, said: "England is nearly twice as crowded as Germany, four times as crowded as France, 12 times as crowded as the US. I can't think what they are doing."