Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 14:34 UK

Drop in East European migration

Shoppers in London
Eight Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004

The number of Eastern European migrants coming to work in the UK has fallen to its lowest level since EU expansion in 2004, Home Office figures show.

Between April and June 2008 there were 40,000 applications - a drop of 14,000 from the same period in 2007.

Figures also show that in the first six months of 2008, 32,230 "immigrant offenders" were removed from the UK, along with 2,500 foreign prisoners.

The immigration minister said Britain's borders were "stronger than ever".

Liam Byrne said asylum applications were "at an historic low and an immigration offender removed every eight minutes".

"Foreign lawbreakers are being removed from Britain at record levels with more than 2,500 deported so far this year," he said.

A second set of figures released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of migrants coming to the UK for a year or more rose to a record level in the 12 months to mid-2007.

Removals target

The Home Office data shows the number of immigration offenders removed in the first six months of this year was up 6% on the same period last year.

In addition, the number of foreign prisoners deported from the UK at the end of their sentences increased by 23%.

The Home Office said this proved it was on course to meet its target of at least 5,000 prisoners removed by the end of the year.

The fall in registrations from Eastern Europe is welcome news for our hard pressed public services
Sir Andrew Green, Migrationwatch UK

Mr Byrne added: "I have made it repeatedly clear that people who come here must earn the right to stay, work hard and play by the rules."

Ten countries joined the EU in 2004, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Applications from those countries for the Worker Registration Scheme fell by 9,000 in the second quarter of this year compared to the first.

The number of applications from Bulgarians and Romanians - countries which joined the EU in 2007 - have also dropped to 7,005, compared to 10,860 in the same period last year.

'Right skills'

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said: "The fall in registrations from Eastern Europe is welcome news for our hard pressed public services, but other government statistics published today show that immigration as a whole continues on a rising trend."

But Jill Rutter, from centre-left think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research, said it appeared the "immigration tide" was turning.

"The challenge in the next few years will be to attract enough migrant workers with the right skills who can drive economic growth in the UK," she said.

The government has also published a consultation on proposed reforms to the immigration appeals system which it says could reduce the time taken to process a case by nine weeks.

If adopted, ministers say the new procedures would take up less court time and allow "faster removal of unsuccessful applicants".

On Wednesday, it was announced that by 2014 almost all visitors to Britain will be counted in and out of the country and checked against security "watch-lists".

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