The number of foreign nationals allowed to settle permanently in Britain rose by a fifth last year to record levels and more than twice the total of 20 years ago.
Almost 140,000 non-Europeans were granted settlement, 20 per cent more than in 2002, compared with about 60,000 in 1997 and around 55,000 in 1983.
About half of those settling were given permission for reasons of “family formation and reunion” and 21 per cent of settlements were “employment related”. The total arising from asylum applications was about 15 per cent.
Those settling in Britain cannot vote or receive full State benefits. But after five years they are generally eligible for naturalisation and citizenship, with full benefits.
There were increases across a range of nationalities—with a 42 per cent increase in those from the Americas, to 16,600, and an 18 per cent rise, to 54,900, in those settling from Asian countries.
The figures show that in the past five years about 540,000 people have been granted leave to settle in Britain, a substantial rise on the total for the previous five years.
The figures for 2003 were released by the Home Office yesterday with statistics on asylum applications.
As expected, they show that the Government’s tough stance on asylum—a political battleground in recent years—has driven down the figures for applications.
However, the settlement figures show that a record total of 87,000 asylum appeals, against applications initially turned down and creating a backlog in the system, were decided in 2003.
The percentage of appeals granted remained static between 2002 and 2003, at about 20 per cent.
However, as the appeals decided had risen by 27 per cent the increase in successful appeals may have cancelled out the drop in initial applications last year.
Overall, however, the Home Office statistics show a trend of asylum diminishing as a percentage source of the overall British immigration figures, which are being driven up by other factors.
The settlement figures, for example, show that the numbers in the employment category rose by 50 per cent while asylum-related “grants” fell by 30 per cent.
The number of asylum applications fell by 11 per cent between April and June this year, and is now at its lowest level since the same three months in 1997.
The Home Office said the figures confirmed “the Government’s continuing progress in dramatically cutting asylum claims, which have now fallen by 70 per cent since October 2002”.
The Government’s critics, however, believe that the official figures on asylum fail to gauge the true extent of the flow into Britain.
The Conservative home affairs spokesman, Humfrey Malins, said that a small fall in the asylum figures was meaningless.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “If there are fewer asylum applications in the last quarter, most people believe that that could mean greater numbers of people are still entering the country illegally, because our borders are not secure, and simply not bothering to claim asylum.”
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: “Setting targets to reduce asylum applications is a meaningless exercise. The numbers seeking asylum should be based on the international situation, not the Government’s reaction to tabloid hysteria.”
The chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Habib Rahman, said: “The UK’s increasingly harsh asylum system may be responsible for driving many asylum seekers underground if they manage to reach this country.”