UK immigration figures show fall of one third

The latest immigration statistics have been released by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS). They show that net immigration for the year ending in June 2012 was a third lower than it was in the year ending in June 2011.

The ONS says that immigration caused the population of the UK to rise by 163,000 in the year to June 2012, compared with a rise of 247,000 the previous year. The UK government welcomed the fall. Prime Minister David Cameron promised in 2010 to cut the UK's net immigration figure to below 100,000 annually by 2015. The UK's immigration minister Mark Harper said 'our tough reforms are having an impact in all the right places. We have tightened the routes where abuse was rife and overall numbers are down as a result. We will continue to work hard to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this parliament'.

The net immigration figure is calculated by subtracting the number of emigrants from the number of immigrants over any given period. In the year to June 2012, the ONS calculates that 515,000 people came to live in the UK, down by 74,000 on the figure for the year to June 2011 (589,000). Meanwhile, the number of emigrants for the year to June 2012 was 352,000 – some 10,000 higher than the 342,000 who left in the year to June 2011.

The ONS figures found that, both in 2011 and 2012, the main reason that immigrants came to the UK is for education. However, the number of students coming to the UK in the year to June 2012 was 20% lower than in 2011. They also showed that the number of immigrants coming to the UK from 'new Commonwealth countries' such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria had fallen by 30%; the number fell from 168,000 in 2011 to 117,000 in 2012. There was also a fall of 14,000 in the number of immigrants coming to the UK from eastern Europe. In the year to June 2012, 62,000 came, the ONS said.

'Half the drop is down to students'

Chris Bryant, the opposition Labour Party's spokesman on immigration, said that 'these figures demonstrate that the government is not focussing on the kind of immigration that worries people the most. 'Half the drop is down to students', he said 'while 30% of the net migration is down to more British people leaving [the country]'.

Sarah Mulley of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said that the government's success in reducing immigration was self-defeating. She said that much of the reduction in immigration was caused by a reduction in the number of students coming to the UK. She said that, because students tend to stay in the UK for three or four years, the number of people leaving the country is likely to start falling in years to come. This will reduce the number of emigrants and thereby increase the net immigration figure.

Ms Mulley said 'given that the government still need to reduce net migration by 63,000 in order to meet their target, it is clear that this cannot be achieved in the medium term without radical changes that go far beyond the student visa regime'.

The BBC's Home Affairs Correspondent Dominic Casciani said that some critics of the government might argue the fall in the number of immigrants coming from eastern Europe might be down to the UK's failing economy rather than the government's efforts to cut immigration.

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