PM: we will deliver on immigration
David Cameron insisted that his ambition to reduce net migration to below 100,000 people a year remains "achievable" despite official figures showing the number had soared.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that net-long term migration was estimated to be 318,000 in 2014 and the Prime Minister acknowledged the figures showed "how far we have to go to reach our goal".
The data showed that 641,000 immigrants came to the UK in 2014 - up by more than 100,000 from 526,000 in 2013.
The ONS net migration figure - which denotes the number of people entering the country minus the number leaving - is the highest for a calendar year since current records started in 1975 and the second highest for any 12-month period. The peak figure was 320,000, which was recorded in the year to June 2005.
Estimated net migration rose by a "statistically significant" 109,000 compared to 2013 - the biggest increase for a calendar year on record.
Mr Cameron announced a package of measures to crack down on illegal workers and said he would chair a Government taskforce to deal with immigration.
The plans, which will be part of an Immigration Bill in the Queen's Speech, include a new offence of illegal working which will give police powers to use proceeds-of-crime laws to seize wages from all illegal migrants.
Councils will be given powers to deal with unscrupulous landlords and speed up the evictions of migrants who are in the country illegally.
Banks will be forced to check accounts against illegal migrant databases while businesses and recruitment agencies will be banned from carrying out overseas recruitment without advertising in the UK.
Exploitation of workers will also be tackled through a labour market enforcement agency.
The Prime Minister, who claimed he had been held back in efforts to limit immigration by the Liberal Democrats during the five years of coalition government, said: "Britain is one of the most successful multi-racial democracies in the world. I am so proud of that.
"But to sustain that success, immigration needs to be controlled.
"After all, that was the clear instruction at the election. With this Immigration Bill, with these other measures, with our EU renegotiations and with a fully Conservative government, we will do just that.
"Our approach will be tougher, fairer and faster. It will put an end to the houses packed full of illegal workers, stop people stalling deportation with spurious appeals, give British people the skills to do the jobs we need and deliver what people want - what they voted for.
"We've got the majority to do that now. We're not wasting a second. So we're going to get on - and we're going to do it."
The Prime Minister said the ONS figures "show that, more than ever, this country needs a majority Conservative Government which really aims to get net migration into the tens of thousands, and that should remain our ambition".
The Prime Minister continued: "It's disappointing that we haven't made more progress, but I take these figures as a clear instruction to deliver and to deliver faster."
Mr Cameron said a key part of the drive would involve changes to welfare rules, so EU migrants who come to the UK without a job offer have to leave after six months if they fail to find work, and cannot claim in-work benefits for four years. He cited details from the new ONS figures showing that 86,000 EU citizens came to the UK last year to look for a job.
Mr Cameron announced a consultation on changes to "significantly" reduce migration by professionals whose skills are deemed by the Migration Advisory Committee to be in short supply - a list which usually includes a number of medical specialities.
The MAC may be required to limit the period of time a profession can be considered to be in shortage, in order to encourage sectors which are "over-reliant" on migrants to train more Britons.
Mr Cameron blamed Liberal Democrats in the previous coalition government - including former business secretary Vince Cable - for holding back action to reduce immigration, and said the Conservative-only administration would be able to deliver a system that was "tougher, fairer and faster".
"Frankly, in the last government, the Home Secretary was very keen on controlling immigration, I was very keen on controlling immigration, but sometimes when we got to the Department for Business, we got a rather unwelcome response," said the Prime Minister.
Lib Dem peer Lord Paddick said: "The Tories promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands but failed spectacularly. Instead of admitting their target was a stupid idea, they have pushed the 'let's sound tough on immigration' button yet again."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "David Cameron is taking people for fools. On the day he has promised yet again to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, these figures show it is over three times that target.
"Both EU and non-EU net migration are considerably higher than in June 2010, after five years of David Cameron and Theresa May's broken promises. This massive gap between rhetoric and reality, between promise and delivery, just destroys trust in anything ministers say on immigration."
Tory MP Mark Field said that net migration is "uncontrollable" while Britain remains a member of the EU and subject to freedom of movement rules in member states.
He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "Part of the difficulty of the net migration figure today, almost at a near record high at 318,000 during 2014, is that it is really an uncontrollable measure, partly because we are members of the EU.
"And I certainly want this country to stay in the European Union and I think that whatever renegotiation that David Cameron has in play will hopefully make some difference in this migration issue, particularly in relation to welfare, making sure that it is contributory rather than there as of right."
Lord Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: " The latest figures are appalling.
"We need to stop and think where this mass immigration is leading. It points to a probable increase of three million in the UK population over the next five years in the face of very strong public opinion. Any further cuts in resources for immigration control would be absurd.
"The Government are right to focus on the need to ensure departure. Non-EU migrants are arriving at a rate of 300,000 a year but only 100,000 are leaving. It seems that half of those staying on (about 100,000) originally arrived as students.
"Meanwhile, the nearly 50% increase in net EU migration suggests that simply curtailing benefits is unlikely to be effective."
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: "Today's figures show how difficult it would be to reduce net migration to the 'tens of thousands'.
"Net migration has risen even despite new restrictions on family, work and student visas that were introduced during the last parliament."