Net Migration to U.K. Rose to Record Figure in Year Ending March

Photographer: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Net long-term migration to the U.K. rose to 330,000 in the year ending March 2015, the highest on record and more than three times Prime Minister David Cameron’s target of below 100,000.

The rise represented an increase of 94,000 from the 12 months ending March 2014, when a net 236,000 arrived in the U.K., the Office for National Statistics in London said Thursday. The previous record was 320,000 in the year ending June 2005.

Cameron has renewed efforts since his re-election in May to curb the influx, capping the number of visas given to skilled workers from outside the European Union and announcing plans this month to punish illegal foreign workers with jail terms. He’s been meeting fellow European leaders in a bid to renegotiate Britain’s membership terms and make the country a less attractive destination for migrants other EU countries.

Attainment of the government’s target is “clearly not going to happen”, Keith Vaz, the opposition Labour Party lawmaker who’s chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “Broken promises on migration do not build confidence with the public. We need a radically different approach.”

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the figures are “deeply disappointing.” British businesses are “still overly reliant on foreign workers in a number of sectors,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

Economic Growth

Britain’s relatively buoyant economy helps to explain its attraction for foreign workers. Growth has been faster and unemployment levels lower than in Germany, France and Italy, the biggest euro-area countries.

Arrivals of EU citizens into the U.K. rose by 56,000 to 269,000, when compared with the year ending March 2014, the highest level recorded for this group, the ONS said. A total of 53,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens immigrated to the U.K. in the year ending March 2015, almost double the 28,000 in the previous 12 months.

As many as 61 percent of EU citizens arriving to work had a definite job to go to, whereas 39 percent were intending to job-hunt in the U.K., according to the ONS data. EU free-movement rules mean the U.K. only has control over migrants from outside the bloc.

A poll by Ipsos MORI published last week showed Britons are the most concerned they’ve ever been about immigration, with a third of those surveyed saying it was the most important issue facing Britain.

‘Bizarre’ Target

“There is a sensible and mature debate to be had about the costs and benefits of immigration,” Simon Walker, the director general of the Institute of Directors business lobby group, said in an e-mailed statement. “At the moment, however, the whole issue is being poisoned by the government’s adherence to their bizarre and unachievable net migration target.”

The U.K. Independence Party, which seeks to cut immigration by leaving the EU and imposing a Australian-style points system for foreign workers, said the statistics showed the “total impotence of the British government.” The party’s migration spokesman, Steven Woolfe, said the U.K. would be in a better position to accept refugees from war-torn regions if it didn’t have to adhere to EU free-movement rules.

Rising numbers of refugees trying to enter the EU fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have made headline news throughout the summer. French and British authorities last week agreed on new controls around the Channel Tunnel at Calais in a bid to stop would-be migrants entering the U.K. illegally.

The number of asylum applications in Britain in the 12 months to March was 25,771, an increase of only 10 percent on the year. By contrast, Germany is grappling with the possible arrival of 800,000 refugees this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was met with heckles of “traitor” as she visited a refugee center near Dresden on Wednesday. Merkel condemned anti-immigration riots that took place in the country over the weekend as “shameful and repulsive.”

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