The world city: one in three Londoners was born overseas

A third of Londoners were not born in Britain, according to research which throws fresh light on the capital's status as a multi-cultural magnet. The capital now has its highest proportion of residents who started life overseas, with the foreign-born population standing at more than 2.2 million.

There are 658,000 more non-British-born London residents than in 1997, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The number of British-born Londoners has fallen by 150,000 since Labour came to power, although they still account for more than 5 million of the 7.3 million who live in the capital.

Migration analysis has shown that thousands of people move out of London each year, with the south-west of England one of the most popular destinations for those in search of a better life.

The ONS analysed data from its annual Labour Force Survey, based on interviews with more than 50,000 households. Statisticians estimated the number of foreign-born London residents rose from 1.63 million in 1997 to 2.28 million by June of this year.

Indian-born residents make up the largest proportion of the overseas contingent, with a population of 206,000 - an increase of 62,000 on the 1997 figure. Bangladeshis were the second biggest group, at 133,000, followed by the Irish at 114,000.

The biggest rises were of people born in eastern Europe, particularly in countries which have recently joined the EU, giving their citizens work and residency rights here.

The number of Russian-born people living in London has doubled to 14,000 in the past nine years; the Polish-born population has risen from 25,000 to 70,000 and there are 19,000 Bulgarian-born residents, compared with 1,000 in 1997.

There have also been big rises in the numbers of Brazilians (up from 4,000 to 25,000) and Zimbabweans, whose numbers have risen from 9,000 in 1997 to 29,000, reflecting the increasing exodus from President Robert Mugabe's regime.

The number of South Africans has doubled to 60,000. There are 49,000 Australians, 58,000 Americans, 12,000 Japanese and 43,000 Germans.

Politicians and business leaders said the rising population of foreign-born residents had strengthened the capital's economy, but warned that their integration into wider British society remained crucial.

Nigel Bourne, London director of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "As London's economy has expanded, the staff needs of businesses have drawn people from around the world. But staff from overseas cannot fill all of our growing requirements - we need to see a step change in education and training."

Jim Fitzpatrick, the minister for London, said: "We have to make sure that although we are tolerant and welcoming, our Britishness is not diluted to the extent that it disappears.

"People who come here should learn the language, culture and history and share in the richness of London."

While London has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents and ethnic minorities of any region in the UK, the population of Britain is becoming more mixed. The proportion of people in the UK who were born overseas has doubled since 1951 to 8.3 per cent of the population - nearly 5 million residents.