The government’s hopes of reducing net migration into Britain to below 100,000 have suffered a fresh blow, with the latest figures showing that it remained at the record level of 250,000 in the year to June 2011.
Long-term emigration over the same period was also stable, with 343,000 people going to live abroad, giving a net migration figure of 250,000.
The figures for the first year of the coalition government showed that net migration actually rose from 235,000 to 250,000 in its first 12 months in office.
This increase was driven by falls in the emigration side of the equation, with the number of people going to live abroad at its lowest level since 1998.
The latest quarterly ONS migration statistics report confirms that studying remains the most common reason to come to live in Britain, with an estimated 242,000 students arriving in the year to June 2011.
The figures also show that long-term immigration of new Commonwealth citizens, mainly from the Asian subcontinent, hit a record level of 170,000 – two-thirds of them students – over the same period.
A separate set of Home Office immigration statistics, giving annual figures for 2011 which do not include an estimate for the politically sensitive figure of net migration, shows that study, work or family visa applications to Britain fell by 6% last year. The latest visa data shows a fall in the number of overseas students since a peak in June 2010.
The immigration minister, Damian Green, insisted there were signs of progress. “Our reforms are starting to take effect. Home Office figures from the second half of last year show a significant decrease in the number of student and work visas issued, an early indicator for the long-term direction of net migration.
“Net migration remains too high, but is now steady, having fallen from a recent peak in the year to September 2010,” he said. “This government remains committed to bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands over the course of the parliament.”
The latest net migration figure is only 5,000 below the September 2010 peak of 255,000.
The number of people granted settlement, which is to be the subject of fresh curbs to be announced next week, fell by 32% last year to 163,477. But it is thought this drop represents a backlog of long-term asylum “legacy” cases moving out of the system. There were 177,000 new British citizens – 9% fewer than in 2010.
The Home Office figures show a sharp rise in asylum cases in the last three months of 2011 to 5,261 – the highest quarterly total since 2009, with rises in applications from Pakistan, Libya and Iran.
The number of people detained for immigration reasons in Britain, already the highest in Europe, rose by 11% to 6,681 in the final quarter of 2011. The figure includes 41 children, the majority of whom were detained in the new “pre-departure” family accommodation run in association with Barnardo’s.
Ministers will also be concerned to see that removals and deportations fell again during 2011 from 60,244 in the previous year to 52,526. The last three months of the year saw some recovery in the number of removals.
Matt Cavanagh of the Institute of Public Policy Research said: “Today’s figures show that in the first full year entirely under the coalition government (from July 2010 to June 2011) net migration remained at a record high level of 250,000. In other words, the government made no progress on its pledge of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of the parliament.
“Reducing immigration is a legitimate goal – but politicians should be wary of promising what they can’t deliver. There is also a risk that ministers will be tempted to take more extreme measures in pursuit of their elusive target, including on those areas of immigration which are most important to our economy, and which surveys show the public are less bothered about, including skilled workers and overseas students.”
Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Following the political unrest and atrocities we saw, and are still seeing, across North Africa and the Middle East, it is no surprise that there was an increase in numbers of people seeking safety here last year from countries including Syria and Libya. For those fleeing persecution it is crucial is that [the UK Border Agency] makes the right decision on their case first time – but the figures for refusals later overturned at appeal suggest that this is often not the case, and more so for women seeking asylum.
“It is also shocking that 99 children were held in detention last year, when the government pledged to put an end to this abhorrent practice almost two years ago. We know that conditions have improved under the new family removals process, but we still strongly maintain that children should not be detained as part of the asylum process.”