Figures published by the European Commission showed a marked slow down of immigration from Eastern Europe, down from 205,000 incomers to Britain in 2006 to 185,000 in 2007.
At the same time, the numbers of immigrants entering Britain from non-European regions, such as Asia, has risen sharply, almost doubling from 90,000 in 2006 to 176,000 people last year.
The Conservatives have seized on the latest figures to step up calls for an annual cap on the number of immigrants coming to Britain from outside EU countries.
Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: “This is yet more evidence undermining the Government’s claims that Conservative policy of having an annual limit on non-EU applicants will not bring immigration under control. The fact the Government refuse to wake up to the need for a proper, sustainable population policy make them part of the problem, not the solution.”
The EU figures were published ahead of Government statistics, to be published today (WEDS), that are expected to reveal that immigration has swollen the population by 1.8 million people since Labour came to power.
Office for National Statistics population statistics for 2007 are predicted to show that the net number of migrants entering Britain has risen to 200,000 a year, the first time that net immigration—the number of incomers minus the number that have left—has risen since an influx of mainly Eastern European migrants in 2004.
The Commission statistics find that in 2007 there were 2,123,000 immigrants living in Britain from outside Europe, compared to 699,000 migrants from the new EU, such as Poles, Czechs of Slovaks, countries that joined in 2003 or from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined last year.
The EU study into the impact of migration following EU enlargement eastwards in 2003 and 2007 concluded “that around half of the EU citizens who have come to work in the UK since 2004 may have already left the country again”.
The EU research also suggested that high levels of migration into Britain from countries mainly including Poland, Latvia and Slovakia “appear to have peaked in 2006 and have significantly declined in 2007 and the first quarter of 2008”. “Moreover, there are indications of increased return migration of people living in the UK,” found the EU study.
Gerard Batten, a UK Independence Party Euro-MP, insisted that there was still a problem with high levels of migration from within Europe.
“Some EU immigrants may be going home because of the current economic problem but that will be those who wanted to work anyway but could not find jobs,” said. “We are still left with all those on the benefits system, and those who work for low pay and who have driven down wages and driven up property prices for the indigenous population at the bottom end of the economic scale.”