Low-skilled workers from Eastern Europe are heading to the UK in their droves to look for work as net migration hit its highest level in more than five years, figures showed today.
The number of low-skilled workers, such as some of those in the retail, hospitality and catering sectors, coming from outside the UK has more than doubled in the last nine years.
The rise was driven by a 60-fold increase in those coming from the eight Eastern European countries that were the latest to join the European Union, all of whom are outside the control of the Government's new immigration cap.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015, but the figure continued to rise last year as it hit 242,000, up from 198,000 at the end of 2009 and 163,000 the year before.
This was fuelled by a 20% fall in the number of people leaving the UK, down to 344,000 from its peak of 427,000 in the 12 months to December 2008, the figures from the Office for National Statistics showed.
But the number of migrants coming to the UK has remained constant at 586,000, taking net migration - the number coming to the UK less the number leaving - to 242,000, up from 198,000 at the end of 2009 and 163,000 the year before.
One in five workers in low-skill jobs was born outside the UK, the figures showed, while the number of UK workers in these jobs fell from 3.04 million to 2.56 million.
An extra 367,000 people born outside the UK are now working in low-skill jobs, taking the total to 666,000 in the first three months of the year, up from 298,000 at the start of 2002.
This included 239,000 people from the eight Eastern European countries - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia - almost 60 times the 4,000 workers from these countries who were in such jobs in 2002.
They were also more likely to take low-skill jobs rather than those that required higher qualifications.
Between January and March this year, almost two-fifths of those who were born in these eight countries and working in the UK were in low-skill jobs, with only about one in 13 in high-skill jobs.
There are now 223,000 fewer British workers in the UK than a decade ago, while the number of non-UK born workers rose by 1.7 million.
This includes 88,000 extra migrants from the core 14 European Union countries - those that made up the EU before the accession countries joined in 2004 - 585,000 from the eight EU accession countries, and 1.01 million from the rest of the world.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "We accept that employers need to attract the brightest talent from across the world to fill jobs gaps but this should never be at the expense of UK workers.
"Employers are prohibited from employing low-skilled workers from outside the EU and this Government will apply transitional controls for all new EU member states in the future.
"These statistics show that immigration was out of control thanks to the old system - that is why we have already introduced radical changes to drive the numbers down and we will shortly be consulting on a range of new measures."
The Government introduced a cap on the number of migrants coming to the UK from outside the EU last month, as well as a crackdown on bogus students and those seeking to settle in the UK, as it seeks to fulfil its pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.
But Matt Cavanagh, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said it was time for the Government to admit that its target "makes little sense, and can't be achieved without damaging Britain's economy".
"When they set the target in opposition, the Conservatives clearly hadn't planned for emigration continuing to fall," he said.
"The Government will have to take even more drastic measures to try to meet their chosen target."
Martin Ruhs, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, warned that even reducing net migration would not necessarily lead to a drop in the country's total migrant population.
"Net migration plays an important part in understanding the broader picture of how migration changes the UK, but it is only one element, and we need to consider a more complete picture to allow the best policies to be developed," he said.
Shadow immigration minister Gerry Sutcliffe said that the figures called into question the Government's pledge and said it was time for ministers to explain "what workable policies they have to deliver it".
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the campaign group Migration Watch UK, said the shock figures showed firm measures were now "absolutely essential".
"The impact on British-born workers is a particular concern that has been brushed under the carpet for too long," he said.
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