Net migration to Britain rose nearly 50% in just one year, official figures showed today.
An estimated 223,000 more people came to the UK in 2004 than left to live overseas, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The figure—up 72,000 on the previous year—was the highest net migration since the present count began in 1991, the ONS said.
The rise was recorded despite the highest-ever level of British citizens leaving for a new life abroad: an estimated 120,000.
Arrivals of Commonwealth residents increased by 45% between 2003 and 2004.
Migration from Pakistan leapt from 9,000 in 2003 to 25,000 in 2004. Arrivals from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka also jumped from 38,000 to 54,000 in the same period.
Last month the Home Office revealed that more than 345,000 migrants from eastern Europe registered to work in Britain since the expansion of the European Union in May 2004.
The figures showed that 345,410 people from Poland and the other new EU states signed up to the special work registration scheme between the May 2004 enlargement and December 2005.
The Conservative party’s immigration spokesman, Damian Green, said today that the new ONS figures showed how unreliable government forecasts on migration were.
“The government is planning for net immigration of 145,000 a year but these figures show this to be yet another Home Office figure of dubious value.
“If we are going to have much more long-term immigration than the government is planning this will have clear implications for the economy and public services. The government should sort its forecasts out as a matter of urgency.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of right-wing pressure group MigrationWatch, said: “The government claim that the present massive levels of immigration are necessary for economic reasons. But in 2004, only one in four immigrants gave work as their reason for coming.”
At the same time as migration is increasing, the most recent asylum figures show that those seeking refugee status in Britain fell by nearly a quarter to 25,720 new applicants in 2005—the lowest level for more than a decade.