Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

UK immigration from Eastern and Central Europe falls

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Migrant workers sorting potatoes in Wisbech
Migrant workers: Some are going home, figures show

The number of immigrants entering the UK from Central and Eastern Europe has continued to fall, according to the latest figures.

Provisional numbers from the Office for National Statistics suggest the number of people from these countries fell by a third in the year to June 2009.

There were 68,000 new arrivals from the new European Union states, compared with 100,000 in the year to June 2008.

Overall, the figures show more people entering the UK annually than leaving.

Officials said that just over half a million people came to the UK in the year to June 2009 - and about 370,000 left, meaning a net increase of the population of about 147,000.

The statistics also show that the number of asylum seekers has fallen significantly for the second quarter.

In the three months until the end of 2009, there were 4,765 asylum applications, down 30% on the same period of 2008.

The number of unauthorised migrants who were either deported or voluntarily left the UK in 2009 was 64,750 - about 3,000 less than in the previous year.

A graphic showing the changes in migration

Other figures show that the number of people seeking British citizenship rose by almost a third in the last quarter of 2009, reaching 51,315.

2009: 113,445
2008: 166,700
2007: 217,975
Source: National Statistics

Almost 45,000 people who had applied were granted a British passport over the same three months - and 204,000 people became citizens over the course of the year.

The government uses a variety of statistics to monitor immigration rates, including the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) which counts economic migrants from eight central and eastern European members of the EU.

There were 28,495 WRS applications in the last quarter of the year - down slightly on the previous year - and almost half the rate in the last three months of 2007.

The number of approved workers from Poland fell to 12,125, down from 16,970 in the previous year - but that was offset by a rise in applications from Latvian and Lithuanian workers.

Separate figures for the number of National Insurance numbers - meaning people who are probably employed and paying tax - show there were 186,000 issued for central and Eastern European workers in the year to June 2009.

Terry Garner
I don't dislike [foreign workers]... they're a good bunch of lads but I still think they are taking Englishmen's jobs.
Terry Garner, British worker in BBC experiment

That was 36% down than the previous year. The Office for National Statistics said the number of National Insurance numbers issued to these EU workers has continued to fall since then.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the figures meant Britain was no longer a "soft touch".

"We're getting on top of things," he said. "The border control at Calais is the strongest it's ever been. We've got new legal strategies in place to separate economic migration from asylum - which means we're seeing a substantial fall.

But Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green said: "We see that everything else is going up.

"Most dramatically student numbers up by 30%, the number of work visas issued is up as well, and the number of people who've come here in the last few years who are settling here are up as well.

"So what we're seeing - and these are the last set of immigration figures we get before a general election - is that throughout the period of this Labour government immigration has, broadly speaking, been out of control."

Chris Huhne for the Liberal Democrats said: "Public confidence and trust in the migration system has been shattered by decades of mismanagement.

"People overstaying on short-term visas are probably the biggest source of illegal immigration and we still cannot say whether they are leaving when they are meant to do so."

However, the Cross-Party Group on Balance Migration, led by MPs Frank Field and Nicholas Soames, said that focusing on modest falls in migrant workers masked the bigger picture.

"The Government's Points-Based System has had little effect, despite their repeated claims to the contrary," they said.

"Employment-related visas fell by only 20,000 last year, despite the recession.

"The reality is that based on these figures, we are still firmly on course for a population of 70 million in 20 years or so. Seventy percent of this increase of nearly 10 million will be due to immigration."

Main reasons for migrating to the UK

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