Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Rise in immigrants coming to UK, ONS data shows

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About 590,000 people arrived in the UK last year

Immigration to the UK continued to rise last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

About 590,000 people came to live in Britain in 2008, compared with 574,000 the year before, figures showed.

However, a growing number of people have been leaving the UK permanently. About 427,000 people emigrated last year, up from 341,000 in 2007.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said most of this rise was because of non-UK citizens returning home.

Overall, net migration - the difference between those coming in and going out of the country - fell in 2008 by 70,000 to 163,000.

Work and study

Levels of immigration to the UK in 2008 are just marginally below the 2006 record of 596,000 immigrants.

Most of the immigrants were single and were Britons returning home, Polish, Indian or Chinese. About half were aged between 25 and 44.

Graph showing immigration and migration over time

For those leaving the country, Australia, Poland, Germany, Spain and France had been the most popular countries to head to in 2008, the ONS said.

That year saw the highest number of people emigrate since 1991, the first year with comparable records.

The ONS said there had been a large increase in the number of people emigrating for work-related reasons, particularly those with a fixed job to go to.

In 2008, some 136,000 people emigrated from the UK to start a definite job, compared to 100,000 a year earlier.

Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the falling net migration showed migrants came to the UK for short periods of time to work, contribute to the economy and then return home.

He said the government's points-based system launched a year ago was allowing for greater control over those coming to work or study from outside Europe.

MPs Frank Field and Nicholas Soames, co-chairmen of the cross-party group on balanced migration, said: "Today's figures reveal that the 30% drop in net immigration in 2008 was almost entirely due to a fall in net migration from Eastern Europe.

"These migrants are not affected by government immigration policies which appear to have had little or no effect on the overall scale of immigration."

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