Net migration to the UK rose to 215,000 in the year to March as the number of Britons leaving to live abroad fell to a 10-year low, figures have shown.
An estimated 140,000 British citizens emigrated in 2009, the lowest since 1999 and down from 173,000 in 2008, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The figures will pose further problems for the Government as it seeks to fulfil its pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015.
To fulfil the Government’s pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015, Home Secretary Theresa May has said all routes to entry, including student, work and family visas, as well as the link between temporary visas and settlement, will have to be tackled.
The number of migrant workers coming to Britain from outside the EU will be cut by a fifth and capped at 21,700 from next year.
Students coming to the UK to study a course below degree level – around 120,000 last year – will be targeted, as will those abusing the study route by using it as a means to stay on in the UK.
Visas for highly skilled workers without a job offer will effectively be scrapped and replaced by up to 1,000 visas for those with “exceptional talent”, which will include sports people and scientists.
There will be a new minimum salary of £40,000 for firms using intra-company transfers (ICTs) to bring their own people into the UK for more than a year to do specific jobs, but employees staying for less than 12 months will be exempt, prompting fears that firms will seek to exploit the loophole.
Family visas will become more selective, with a minimum standard of English being introduced as a requirement for those applying for marriage visas.
The Government will also focus on the tens of thousands of people who come to the UK each year to fill a temporary skills shortage and end up staying, with settlement becoming “a privilege to be earned, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in”.