Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 11:59 UK

More Eastern Europeans leaving UK

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Eastern European workers picking celery
Many Eastern European migrant workers are going home

The number of Eastern and Central Europeans leaving the UK doubled in the year to September 2008, figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that more foreign nationals left during the same 12 months than compared with the previous year.

The population is still growing from migration - but the rate has slowed because of the numbers now leaving.

Home Office figures show there was a 27% rise in asylum seekers, but the total is well below record levels.

Over the first three months of 2009, there were 8,380 asylum applications, the highest number since 2004. Including family members, the number of people seeking refuge was 10,285.

While this represents a significant increase, it is below the record levels of approximately 25,000 arrivals every quarter in 2002.

Almost half of the applications were from Zimbabweans and Afghans - with significant numbers of Iraqis, Iranians, Eritreans and Sri Lankans also seeking protection.

Registered workers

Officials use a number of measures to count foreign workers. Provisional figures from the International Passenger Survey, a limited sampling exercise at ports, suggests 56,000 people from eight key Eastern and Central European countries left in the year to September 2008.

Jan - Mar 2008: 32,365
Apr - Jun: 28,625
Jul - Sept: 25,130
Oct - Dec: 16,895
Jan - Mar 2009: 12,480
Note: Poles comprise almost 60% of all Eastern European workers in the UK; Source: ONS/Home Office

That was more than double the 26,000 who left in the previous 12 months - but overall 44,000 more Central and Eastern European workers still arrived than left.

The ONS says that over the year to last September, 720,000 National Insurance numbers were issued to foreign nationals - down 7% on the previous year.

The ONS said the "key factor" in the fall in National Insurance registrations was the decline in applications from eight Eastern and Central European nations.

It said that 265,000 of the National Insurance numbers went to these nationals in the year to September - a fall of 71,000 registrations on the previous year.

Over the same period, the government recorded 180,000 Eastern and Central Europeans joining the Worker Registration Scheme, a means of counting their presence in the UK.

That was down from 223,000 registrations between September 2006 and September 2008.

The most recent provisional figures show that registrations are continuing to fall, said the ONS - totalling 133,000 in the year to March 2009.

The figures do not include self-employed workers who do not need to register.

A graphical breakdown of the various people choosing British citizenship

Overall, an estimated 469,000 Poles remain the largest single group of foreign passport holders living in the UK - although there are many more people born in India and Pakistan who long ago became British citizens.

Separate figures from the Home Office show that almost 16,000 people were removed from the UK in the first three months of 2009 - 6% fewer than in the previous year. The majority of the removals, some 13,000 people, were non-asylum cases. Citizenship figures show that 129,000 people became British during 2008.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: "Today's figures show that immigration levels are balancing as more Eastern Europeans are now leaving the UK to return home.

"This suggests that increasing prosperity in post Soviet Eastern Europe in the long term can only be beneficial for the UK."

But Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK said: "There is a small reduction in net migration. But the key to all of this is the impact of immigration on our population.

"The numbers are quite close to what the ONS expected and that in turn means that the population will go up by 10 million in the next 20 years - and seven million of that will be a result of immigration."

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