Up to 570,000 illegal immigrants may be living in the UK, according to a Home Office estimate.
The government says its best estimate is 430,000 but the number could be between 310,000 and 570,000 and does not include asylum seekers whose claims are being processed, or who are appealing against a refusal.
During the election campaign Tony Blair said he did not know how many illegal immigrants were in the UK and the Conservatives have accusing the prime minister of hiding the truth.
What is your reaction to the figures? Are the government's policies to tackle the issue working?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
All immigrants are in search of a better life. There is no evidence to suggest that they come to scrounge but plenty of evidence that they work hard for low wages. What is of concern is that, in the case of skilled workers, we are in effect depriving their home country of the skills that the home country paid for and needs. Another concern is that as more and more inward migration occurs, appropriate increases to our infrastructure are not made (e.g water supply).
Ian Henley, York, UK
We should follow the example of the Spanish government, which had a similar "problem" with illegal immigrants, and solved it by making them legal.
David Brooks, London, UK
The argument of illegals working for low pay doing jobs no one else wants is only valid because they are here illegally. If there were no illegals the wages would have to be increased to a level where legal tax and NI paying people would do the jobs. Bosses would not benefit as they do now by using cheap illegal immigrant labour. As already stated, end all the free and easy handouts, refuse all entry without valid visas, and most illegals would then not try to get to the land of milk and honey as they do now.
Malcolm Andrews, Lichfield, England
The illegal immigrants as they are being branded - are in fact economical slaves. They go to different countries to seek better life but end up in hot soup. The solution can be addressed by the G8 in its forthcoming get-together. Good governance and equal opportunity to all is needed. How to find solution to that- I am sure if the will is there it can be achieved. Do not disregard the plights of have nots.
Narendra Gajjar, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Tony needs another excuse for ID cards. The previous excuses are being seen through, so let's try the racists' bugbear - immigration. Never mind that cards cannot make a difference because non-UK residents won't have them anyway, whether they're legally here or not.
Terry Browning, Wells, UK
There is big demand for illegal workers. Many British employers want these people to cut their wage bill and have no responsibility. The publication of illegal immigrant figures come at a time to synchronise with ID card debate. People are no longer that stupid.
I don't mind who is in this country and where they come from as long as they don't commit crime, they attempt to integrate and they don't become a burden on the state. There is far too much racist fussing over illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees when people should be more concerned about teenagers having babies to increase the amount of benefits they can claim. These benefit frauds that enjoy the fruits of our hard work are the ones who ought to be chucked out of the system, not immigrants.
If every illegal immigrant was to leave tomorrow the country (and this includes all developed countries) would come to a standstill. Governments and nationals like to play both sides: Reap the benefits from illegal immigration who do work few other people will do, at a wage that is below the poverty line with no benefits or security plus the fear of being caught, while at the same time using them as the proverbial whipping boy. Instead of tightening immigration laws (and all the expense that, that implies) more investment can be made into the countries that the majority of the immigrants come from.
I think it's interesting that the government has released these figures on immigration around the time of their renewed pushing of ID cards. I believe the reason they have done this is to increase fear of immigration so that people will want to use the ID cards which is a stupid idea really. Immigrants are not to be feared - they are people who, in a lot of cases, have come from places where they have lived in fear and poverty. They deserve our help and respect for trying to make a better life for themselves.
Stephanie, Gosport, UK
This is another cynical ploy. The government would not release the figures during the election campaign because it would look bad. However, now safely through the election they feel confident enough to release the figures as justification for the ID cards they plan. This figure seems amazing considering the recent amnesty and the fact that almost all non UK citizens who enter the country are offered work permits. Europe including the UK are the least equipped in the world to face the challenges of globalisation and are headed for total recession. I believe we all have equal rights to share this planet. Nevertheless, I fear what might happen when the recession hits and jobs become harder to find.
Innes Robertson, Dorset
The problem is not with the immigration laws or how/whether they are implemented. The problem is with the benefits system. As long as we hand out money/housing/health care to everybody who turns up here, they will keep coming.
Beatriz Ridgway, London
I think illegal immigration is a result of an unbalanced world. Make Poverty History and that will solve the problems like illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants contribute to the economy and their deportation costs money. Deporting them is a double tragedy to the taxpayer. A quick fix to control illegal immigration is to put tight controls on our borders. Having done that we then give amnesty to those who are in work. By this we will be trying to start from zero rather than negative.
The long and short of it is that without immigration and to some extend illegal immigrants this country would just cease to function. I would like to know when this tolerant country became so xenophobic, we should all be ashamed extremely ashamed.
Alec, York, UK
So now the Government finally agrees with what the electorate have been telling it for several years. However the Government has based certain actions on the premise that this high number was not true and it is too late to put things right.
Keith, Rayleigh England
If there was a sensible immigration policy that welcomed people who wish to live and work in this country, there would be little need for illegal immigration.
Megan, Cheshire UK
I think a distinction has to be made between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. The legal immigrants are here because they have satisfied the criteria and applied to be here. I believe that these people bring new/rare skills and in some cases huge amounts of money (which they will spend here) to this country which can only be good for the national economy. Many will go to jobs that contribute to our society. You don't usually hear about these types of immigrants and the contribution they make to our economy because it doesn't scare people and sell tabloid newspapers! The government does need to get its act together in dealing with the illegal immigrant and failed asylum seeker situation. br />Jon,
What a schizophrenic society we are. On the one hand, we obsess about our island sinking under the sheer weight of illegal immigrants. On the other hand, we won't do anything which will actually drive them away, because we know that the army of illegal cleaners and security guards working desperately for nothing are keeping prices down. It's just our way of turning a blind eye to modern slavery.
David, Aberystwyth, Wales
What I find astonishing is that these guesstimates are to be the basis for public policy! There is no hard evidence of this number of illegal living here. Also, it is not logical that so many can pass through quite stringent immigration checks at ports and airports, then "vanish" in these numbers. This is a political ploy, pure and simple.
John B, Milton Keynes, UK
The debate about whether immigrants contribute to this country or not is irrelevant when there aren't enough houses for the people who already live here. Quite simply, Britain's population is too big and it needs to be reduced. Why not have a moratorium on immigration for a year and see whether society really falls to pieces, or whether - more likely - the pressures on essential services are reduced.
Since there is no will in the UK to actually do anything about the illegal immigration problem, why bother publishing any figures?
Bridget, Manchester, UK
Illegal immigration or economic migrants are something this government has actively encouraged since their time in office, we have an economy that will shortly hit a brick wall due to the overburdening welfare state and the creation by this government of hundreds of non-jobs that are all highly paid but utterly non productive. All this has to be paid for by people who have bothered in life to do things for themselves. The 'haves' are continually expected to give wealth they have created for themselves to the have nots, the vast majority of whom are lazy and unemployable. The government should be making our own shirkers do the jobs these economic migrants do instead of continually coming up with ways to extort money from those people in this country who chosen to create their own destiny through hard work.
Graham, Fareham, UK
Hopefully the government will act on companies that employ immigrants for under the minimum wage. Paying people less for their work simply because they aren't from here (either legally or illegally) is racism. If an immigrant is being paid above the minimum wage instead of a British citizen then so be it, an illegal immigrant that does work better than a British citizen has every right to be there. Despite what the Daily Mail will tell you, immigrants are not taking 'our jobs'.
Steffan Davies, Cardiff, Wales
Call me cynical but it is truly remarkable how barely two months ago the government insisted there were no figures about illegal immigration and now suddenly they know exactly what's going on. I wonder what changed. Ah yes, silly me, the election is over.
John B, UK
As long as the UK continues to pursue such a ridiculously hardline in its policies towards legal migration to its shores, the numbers of people willing to take the illegal route will only increase. When will Blair and his government realise this simple causal relationship?
Sajeev Chakkalakal, India
I don't believe for a second that the figure of up to 570,000 illegal immigrants in this country is true - it's more like a million plus. An official working for the immigration services was dismissed over a year ago for whistle blowing on what was happening and suggested the figure at well over that amount and it was unofficially confirmed by others within the service to be fairly accurate. Tony Blair has hoodwinked the electorate by not allowing any figures out until after the election.
John Clarkeson, Chichester, England
It is interesting that so much credence is given to the "official" calculation of what is after all can be no more than a guess. It is not racism to want to restrict immigration to the UK. What is needed is a sensible attitude to both immigration and asylum, two concepts which have nothing to do with each other. Immigrants to the UK should be judged not by their desire to do work that Britons don't want to do, but only by our international obligation to not condemn innocents to death by returning them to their home. Nor should the UK undermine the expensive investment of significantly poorer countries in the education of their citizens by "poaching" the better educated ones, and thus perpetuating the "two world" concept of humanity that far too many of the apologists for unrestricted immigration and "fair trade" subsidies purport to oppose.
It's amazing the number of people here who start talking of 'immigrants' and 'asylum seekers' when the topic is about 'illegal immigrants'. How can there be a sensible debate when people don't even know the difference?
HS, Surrey, UK
I don't see how an ID card would stop this and all the people who seem to say so don't really give an explanation as to how. Secondly, do we actually need to stop it? What we should be doing is making sure that those who are working illegally here come into the system, start paying taxes and national insurance and contribute to the economy officially? It's quite obvious that we do need these people to be hotel maids, cleaners, litter pickers etc, as a large portion of the native population seems to think the state owes them a living, rather than do a bit of hard work. Immigration is not going away, so lets be adult about it and do something constructive.
Chris, Bolton, UK
I'm sorry, but until we have a strong government that has transmits a zero tolerance policy worldwide, people will keep coming. There should be a simple policy! If you cannot produce valid documents you're on the next plane out. If you want to stay, you can do three years national service. Lets see if these people really want to be here?
Ian, Lancaster, UK
I lived and worked as an illegal immigrant for a couple of years in Australia. This alone was an incentive to work harder, keep your nose clean of the law and generally appreciate the country you worked in. The majority of the "local Aussies" I was working with were pretty slack and would forever call in sick. Illegal immigrants? If they want to work in the UK then let them, just don't underpay them if they're from poorer countries
If the problems in their own countries were solved, they wouldn't need to become illegal immigrants in the first place.
Tom, Ipswich UK
The vast majority of illegal immigrants are economic migrants. They are employed illegally in unskilled work, and this has a detrimental effect on the wages of our own unskilled workers. Equally, the illegal immigrants are also exploited and subjected to appalling working conditions. It is the rich who benefit as they are the ones most likely to benefit from low wages, low inflation and increasing company profits. That's why the government turns a blind eye.
Raj Kumar, London
It is not true that illegal immigrants 'do the jobs that we don't want' - it is simply that they work for less and employers take advantage of them.
A. Joseph, Manchester, UK
How fitting that these statistics are produced just as the ID card debate is getting a bit difficult.
If you lived in some poverty stricken war torn country, you would want a better life too. People come here and do jobs that are vital for the country, that a lot of us would not want to do. Everyone benefits.
Antony Joyce, York England
The whole of the UK economy is dependent on illegal immigrant workers. The majority of immigrants are doing the lowest paid jobs that no one else is prepared to do. Cleaners, bar staff, hotel workers, au-pairs etc. need I go on? These people are providing services that no one else is prepared to do and they are usually the worst treated by employers and living in impoverished conditions. So I say more immigration please and better regulation of the workers' rights.
Jason, Camborne, Cornwall
Simple solution on illegal immigrants - give them amnesty/status. Spain gave amnesty to 1 million illegal and they are now contributing over £1billion in legitimate taxation. Immigrants are here because we cannot do without them.
Wilfred, London, UK
I can't say I'm surprised at the number of illegal immigrants - having experienced the cost and hassle involved in bringing my own wife here, I'd be sorely tempted to get in through the back door too if I had to do it again. Immigration controls only ever impact on those people who try to play by the rules, and it will be no different if the ID card system comes into force, or should that be farce?
Graham, Manchester, UK
One of my housemates has been an illegal immigrant since February when his visa expired. Nobody has checked up on him. He works hard and obviously can't claim any sort of benefits. If he's caught he'll be deported, but his employers will only receive a small fine. The government should target companies (mostly restaurants, pubs, hotels) that employ illegal immigrants. The illegal workers receive poor wages and no rights while the company avoids paying employer's NI contributions. They are the truly unethical ones.
'Why do illegal immigrants go through such ordeals to get here?' you might ask. Is the UK a soft touch or a booming economy needing diverse skills which these people can offer? Face it, illegal immigrants can gain far more in terms of healthcare and benefits in many other EU nations but probably won't have so much a chance of contributing to the workforce and economy as they do in the UK. Immigrants come here because we need them!
Jake, Winchester, UK
What a disgrace when an issue such as this is used to manipulate the public. How convenient that he didn't know the number when he justified the system during the election campaign but regains his memory when defending his policy on Zimbabwe? This is nothing but trailer park politics!
Has Q, Birmingham
This is not news. We have always been soft on illegal immigrants and every government is to blame. There is no more pressing problem because we haven't the resources or space in this small country. Perhaps if we were tougher and had proper border controls it wouldn't happen.
Hazel, London, England
So 1% of the population is living here "illegally"? Even if their existence didn't have a positive effect, big deal! I say let more needy cases in on top of this. Can someone provide me a real explanation of why ID cards would solve this "problem"?
Seth, Sale, UK
The figure is quite meaningless without much more detail. How long has the average illegal immigrant been in the UK and what is the spread of time? Are there any clusters from any particular region? Are these all first generation? How are they surviving? Are they employed or claiming welfare? Most importantly, how are they arriving and who is facilitating this? That they are here shows how insecure the country is and no ID card is ever going to solve this problem.
Clive, Milwaukee, USA
These figures are only making the xenophobic and intolerant attitudes that dominate our society even more pronounced. Clearly the figures will be used for all the wrong reasons by all the wrong people. The government needs to focus on curbing the appalling hatred expressed to people who move to our country because they have nowhere else to go.
Andy Shaw, Droitwich, UK
I travel the country as part of my job, and I think these figures are an underestimate, either that or there has been a massive amount of legal immigration that we haven't been told about either. Having said that, if these people are willing to work, and integrate, then I would rather they were here than the native born shirkers whom the government thinks need my hard earned taxes more than I do.
Illegal immigrants are a drain on our society. Why hasn't the government introduced a point system that bases immigration on what a person can bring to the country to help move it forward and make it better? The points based systems has proven successful in other countries such as Canada and Australia, it's about time the government did something to help stop the rot.
Wayne, Calgary, Canada (ex-pat)
As the CBI pointed out, every 1% increase in immigration creates a 1.5% increase in national wealth. If these people were legalised, and properly integrated into our tax and legal systems, it'd benefit us all. Why should we all be made poorer just because a bunch of nationalist bigots want to expel these bright young people?
Dylan Harris, Kettering, UK
I don't care about illegal immigrants. They don't claim benefits, they commit very little crime because if they get caught then they are deported. Illegal immigration will never stop as long as there are other places in the world people want to get out of to come here. So why bother worrying about it.
HS, Surrey, UK
With all due respect, I am saddened by these figures. Although there are a number of genuine seekers this only makes me feel more and more that this country is the easy option and that our own people, that need help, are made to suffer more and more.
Chris Barker, Worksop England
Basically, I'd like to say I don't care but I do. I care that as many people as possible manage integration. Illegal immigration is not the way and I don't feel anyone gets a good deal apart from the people who move them. I do however feel that legalised immigration should be simplified so that we can keep track of these people often living in horrific conditions.
The only thing that is working for the government is their ability to move numbers from the asylum seekers lists, to the (anyone's guess) illegal immigrant numbers. Therefore making the pre-election asylum figures look good.
So the prime minister rubbishes claims that half a million illegal immigrants are in the country during the election campaign - that could have lost votes - but now says there are when it wants to win another vote on ID cards. I'm not that bothered about immigration but I am deeply worried about the government's inability to maintain a consistent line. It appears that its line will change in line with whatever it wants to do. How on earth can we trust these figures and how on earth can we trust the government on ID cards? As we can't let's have a proper, independent Royal Commission to investigate real immigration figures, whether immigrants pose any economic or physical danger (as in whether any immigrants are likely to be terrorists), whether ID cards will be of any use whatsoever and at what cost.
It's rather convenient to wait until the third election is in the bag before letting us know. By the same token, the public has been demanding that rejected applicants are deported and the minute the government does so, there is an outcry depending on which country it is. We need to make up our minds regarding immigration.
Ken, London, UK
Surely this is the point of ID cards. If you have nothing to hide, why not have one. If everyone had ID cards this sort of thing could not happen.
Ann Cooper, Skegness, England
Ann Cooper, Skegness, England. "If everyone had ID cards this sort of thing could not happen" Can you explain why counties that have ID cards have illegal immigrants? In Thailand every citizen has an ID card. There are hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants here. Most from neighbouring countries. The Home Office figures are dubious in the extreme. Why no breakdown of the figures by country?
Ian Martin, Bangkok Thailand
Mandatory ID cards will help find these people and the people who are exploiting them. Then the authorities should deport them back to their own countries, no allowance should be made for those to whom a child has been born in this country or if a partner is British. If so they should apply legally for a life here under the proper rules.
Will, Darwen, UK
Who cares? We voters do, apparently - but how many people do you know who actually particularly care about asylum seekers? There are more pressing issues facing Britain. This is just a scapegoat.
Daniel, Birmingham, UK
I think the figures are appalling and the government should be putting this disgrace in order as a priority.
Ian Hooper, Wells, England
The problem is not how many illegal immigrants are in the UK, but what is the government doing to help this people. They come from poor countries around the world and they are only seeking a better life which is good. The government have to do something to accommodate them. It is time we let others see the sun rise as we are able too. I urge the government to accept them and consider granting them a status so they can be able to live and work in UK on the condition that they do not get involved in any criminal activity.
Agborarrey, Limbe, Cameroon
So Blair refused 20 times to endorse these estimated figures during his election campaign, but can come out with them now that his ID card scheme is proving hard to sell. Well who would have thought it?
Paul, Hereford, UK