The number of foreigners living in Britain has passed seven million for the first time after net immigration rose by a fifth. There was a 21 per cent increase in the net flow of migrants to the UK while the number of those leaving hit a six-year low.
Some 239,000 more people moved here during 2010 than left, the fourth highest level on record, and a record one in four births were to foreign-born mothers.
It is a major blow to David Cameron’s pledge to cut net immigration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015. But Damian Green, the immigration minister, blamed Labour’s “addiction” to immigration.
Other figures yesterday showed that a record 241,000 people were granted settlement in 2010, while the number of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers removed from the country hit a 10-year low with just 11,388 leaving between April and June this year.
The net flow of Eastern European migrants increased almost eight-fold while asylum claims increased by nine per cent to 4,800 compared with the same quarter last year.
Net immigration, the difference between those arriving and those leaving, stood at 239,000last year, a 21 per cent increase on the previous year and the sixth consecutive comparative rise in the ONS’s quarterly bulletins.
Emigration hit its lowest level for six years at 336,000 while some 575,000 migrants arrived in the UK.
There was also a renewed surge of migrants from Eastern Europe, with a net inflow of 39,000 last year, an eight-fold increase on 2009. Numbers had tailed off during the recession but increased once again as prospects improved.
It could mark a worrying trend for ministers because their proposed restrictions on immigration announced in the past 12 months have no bearing on EU citizens.
For the first time in 2010, more than a quarter of babies born during the year were born to foreign mothers. The ONS suggested that foreign-born mothers – especially Polish migrants – had fuelled an overall rise in the birth rate for England and Wales because they made up a growing proportion of the childbearing-age population.
The capital had the highest proportion of babies born to foreign mothers, including more than three in four in the east London borough of Newham.
Council leaders and head teachers have warned that rising birth rates have contributed to an unprecedented surge in demand for places in primary schools.
Matt Cavanagh, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said: “Politicians shouldn’t promise what they can’t deliver, particularly on immigration.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the campaign group Migration Watch UK, said: “The Coalition Government will have to face down some vested interests if they are to get anywhere near their target of tens of thousands.”
The Government has already introduced an annual cap on non-EU workers and proposed restrictions on foreign students, settlement rights and family visas.
Mr Green said the current level of immigration was “completely unacceptable” but it would take time for measures to bring levels down to take effect.
He said: “Over the period of the previous government, Britain became addicted to immigration and any programme of weaning someone off an addiction does take time and patience and persistence.”
Shabana Mahmood, a shadow Home Office minister, said: “These figures reveal the gulf between the Government’s rhetoric on immigration and the reality we see in the official figures.”