Net migration to the United Kingdom has hit record levels, driven largely by a massive increase in the number of European Union nations coming to the UK, according to official statistics revealed today.
Total net migration stood at 330,000 in the year to March – beating the previous highest figure of 320,000, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
More than 636,000 people migrated to the UK long term with 306,000 emigrating.
Immigration of EU citizens rose from 213,000 to 269,000 in the period, driven largely by a more than doubling of the number of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens moving to Britain – from 22,000 to more than 53,000.
Immigration of non-EU citizens increased from 261,000 to 284,000.
The ONS figures also revealed that India continues to account for a large number of non-Visit and Transit visas to the UK with more than 86,000 granted in the year to March.
China leads the figures with nationals of that country granted early 90,000 visas.
The statistics will be a major blow to Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.
The latest rise is the fourth straight quarterly increase and will be a source of political embarrassment for Mr Cameron.
Curbing migrants’ access to welfare benefits in order to deter them from coming to Britain is a key objective for the prime minister as he renegotiates Britain’s relationship with the EU before putting its continued membership to a public vote by the end of 2017.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said the latest data was “deeply disappointing”.
“While these figures underline the challenges we need to meet to reduce net migration , they should also act as a further wake-up call for the EU. Current flows of people across Europe are on a scale we haven’t seen since the end of the Second World War,” he said in a statement
The figures will also fuel further support for the UK Independence Party, whose leader Nigel Farage today said the ONS statistics revealed the “impotence” of Cameron’s government.
The debate surrounding immigration has intensified in recent months, with the huge influx into EU of migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
The data showed that asylum applications had risen by 10 percent but, at 25,771 in the year ending June 2015, remained low in comparison to other channels of migration and well below their 2002 peak of 84,132.
A total of 11,600 people were granted asylum or an alternative form of protection.
In the same period, China and India accounted for the largest share of those granted visas to come to Britain from outside the EU, followed by the United States.
Cameron has been criticised for setting a fixed target for migration.
Many employers say attempts to slow immigration will make it harder for them to find the skilled workers they need.
“Scrabbling around to find measures to hit a bizarre and unachievable migration target is no way to give British businesses the stable environment they need,” said Simon Walker, director general of business lobby group the Institute of Directors.