'Massive gap' in immigration target
A rise in immigration from crisis-hit eurozone countries and a drop in people leaving the UK has pushed the Government's migration target further out of reach.
As David Cameron and Theresa May unveil a range of measures aimed at deterring immigration to the UK, official figures revealed the first annual increase in the net flow of migrants to the country for two years.
While overall immigration fell, statisticians revealed a "statistically significant" surge in citizens arriving for work from the so-called EU15 nations, which include Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain.
Rising to 182,000 in the year to June, from 167,000 the previous year, net migration is moving further away from the Government hopes to slash the figure to less than 100,000 before the next election in 2015.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said net migration was still down by nearly a third since its peak in 2010 and insisted the Government was working hard to bring it down further.
But migration experts warned it was looking "increasingly difficult" for the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to hit their goal to bring the net flow down to the tens of thousands, while Labour said the fresh figures had exposed the Government's "hollow claims".
Dr Scott Blinder, acting director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: "The level of net migration announced today, when considered in the context of improving economic forecasts for the UK, potentially increased EU migration from Romania and Bulgaria and the Government's own assessments of the potential impacts of changes to policies to reduce non-EU immigration provides the Government with a significant hurdle to overcome if it is to reach the tens of thousands target by the end of this parliament."
Some 503,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending June, compared with the 517,000 people who arrived during the previous year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS said).
Immigration from the European Union (EU) increased to 183,000 in the year ending June, the ONS said, up from 158,000 the previous year.
Southern European economies were behind the increase in EU immigration, the ONS added.
A batch of statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the level of National Insurance numbers given to non-UK nationals also revealed a surge from Mediterranean countries.
The number of people coming to work in the UK from Spain rose by 40% to 49,800 in the year to September, the DWP figures showed, while t he numbers from Italy increased by 52% to 39,400, from Portugal by 45% to 28,300 and from Greece by 31% to 9,300.
David Hanson, shadow immigration minister, said: "David Cameron and Theresa May are failing to meet their own target.
"They promised 'no ifs, no buts' that they would meet their target of net migration in the tens of thousands by the election. Instead net migration is going up and its higher this year than 12 months ago.
"These figures expose the massive gap between the rhetoric and the reality of Tory immigration policy. Theresa May has boasted repeatedly that net migration was falling and her target would be met. Now those hollow claims have been completely exposed."
Immigration from outside the European Union (EU) saw a "statistically significant" drop to 242,000 in the year to June, from 282,000 the previous year.
Meanwhile, emigration dropped to its lowest level since 2001 as 320,000 emigrants left the country in the year to June, down from the 349,000 the previous year.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: "Our reforms are working and immigration continues to fall. We have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, but are still encouraging the brightest and best to come here to study and work.
"Net migration has fallen by nearly a third since its peak in 2010 and across government we are working hard to bring it down further."
Work was the most common reason for immigration into the UK in the year to June, with 202,000 people arriving to seek employment, overtaking study as the most popular reason for the first time since 2009. A total of 176,000 immigrants arrived for study, the ONS added.
The number of visas issued, excluding visitor and transit visas, was 526,736 in the year to September, up 4%, or 18,536, on the previous year.
Work visas increased by 5% to 152,139 in the period, while study visas were up 3% to 216,895, where university-sponsored applications rose 7%.
The figures come amid growing concern that Britain will face a new wave of eastern European immigration when access restrictions to the UK labour market for Romania and Bulgaria are lifted on January 1 next year.
The Prime Minister is facing an incipient Tory backbench rebellion as some 45 Conservative MPs have signed up to a Commons motion calling for the controls on Romanian and Bulgarians to be extended until the end of 2018.
But Mr Cameron has also been warned Britain is at risk of being seen as the "nasty country" of Europe as he unveiled further tough measures to clamp down on immigration to the UK.
New EU arrivals will not be able to claim benefits for three months when they land in the UK and once that period is up will only be able to claim out-of-work benefits for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.
In addition, those found begging or sleeping rough could be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months unless they can show they have a proper reason to be in the UK, such as a job.
Other proposals previously announced will see migrant access to the NHS restricted, while landlords, employers, bankers and DVLA staff will all be expected to take part in checks for illegal immigrants under tough reforms.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage branded the Government's approach to bringing migration under control a "complete failure".
He said: "The fact that we still have net migration going up, EU migration going up and immigration into the UK still running at over half a million people per year is a damning indictment of this Government's failed approach to immigration.
"This is before they plan to open the doors to Bulgaria and Romania next year. If the Government were serious about bringing immigration into the UK under control, they would not allow total unrestricted access from Bulgaria and Romania from January 1 next year."