Net Migration Hits Record High In Britain

UK Net Migration Soars
The report shows that 636,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending March 2015. Luke MacGregor /Reuters

Net migration to the U.K. has reached a record high, soaring to 330,000 in the year to March 2015. The net migration figure—the difference between immigration and emigration—published by the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics, marks a "significant increase" in those coming to Britain, according to the report and is 10,000 higher than the previous peak of 320,000 recorded in 2005, and three times higher than the Conservative government's target.

The figures also reveals that the number of foreign-born people living in Britain has passed the eight million mark for the first time, with more than three million becoming British citizens since arriving in the U.K.

The report shows that 636,000 people immigrated to the U.K. in the year ending March 2015, up 84,000, while emigration stood at 307,000, down 9,000 in the same period. The net migration figure was a "statistically significant increase" from 236,000 in the year ending March 2014 and is the highest net migration on record, the report says

Other than European Union countries, the nation with the highest number of citizens migrating to the U.K. in the 12 months to June of this year was China, with 89,593 arrivals. 53,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens immigrated to the U.K. in 2014, almost double the 28,000 in the previous 12 months. Nearly two-thirds of all those arriving in the U.K. already had a job to come to, according to the figures.

The findings have been greeted with dismay by the the U.K. government. Prime Minister David Cameron, pledged to reduce net migration to 100,000 a year in the run up to both the 2010 and the 2015 general elections. The leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage commented, "These figures reflect [a] Borderless Britain and the total impotence of the British government."

James Brokenshire, the U.K. immigration minister, admitted that the figures were "deeply disappointing". Brokenshire, speaking to the BBC, said that the "reliance that business continues to place on migrant labour" and foreign students staying in the UK after they had finished their studies, accounted for the rise. He added, "Current flows of people across Europe are on a scale we haven't seen since the end of World War II. This is not sustainable and risks the future economic development of other EU member states."

While the study found that there were 25,771 asylum applications in the year leading to June 2015—an increase of 10% compared with the previous 12 months—this figure is relatively low compared to a peak of 84,132 in 2002. The largest number of applications for asylum came from nationals of Eritrea (3,568), followed by Pakistan (2,302) and Syria (2,204). A total of 11,600 people were granted asylum or an alternative form of protection.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticized the figures in a statement on the Labour Party website, arguing that Cameron needed to produce a sensible plan to reduce net migration, and to distinguish between immigration and those seeking asylum. "The net migration target treats immigration and asylum as the same," she wrote. "That is morally wrong and is preventing Britain playing its part in responding to the terrible refugee crisis that stems from Syria and has spread across Europe."

Business leaders have also criticized the government, branding its net migration target as "bizarre." Simon Walker, director general at the Institute of Directors (IoD), an organisation representing professional leaders, said in a statement published today, "There is a sensible and mature debate to be had about the costs and benefits of immigration. At the moment, however, the whole issue is being poisoned by the government's adherence to their bizarre and unachievable net migration target."

"By announcing policies on the hoof every time figures are released, the government betrays its lack of a long term plan on migration," he added.

Half of all IoD members employ somebody from outside the U.K., Walker added. "It is not about undercutting wages or bringing in cheap staff - only four per cent of IoD members say that cost had anything to do with their decision to hire from abroad. Our public services, in particular the NHS, also depend heavily on access to staff from across the world," the statement continued.