Record numbers leave the country for life abroad
400,000 left UK in 2006, including 207,000 Britons
591,000 arrive, more from south Asia than EU states
Alan Travis and Sarah Knapton
Friday November 16 2007
The number of people leaving Britain to live abroad reached a record high of 400,000 last year, an increase of 41,000 on 2005, according to figures published by the Office of National Statistics yesterday.
The statistics show that 207,000 were British citizens, with most going to Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain or the United States. The rest of the 400,000 were non-British and had been in the UK for more than one year.
The annual international migration figures confirm that an estimated 591,000 people arrived to live in the UK for at least a year in 2006, giving a net inward flow of 191,000, down from the record high of 244,000 estimated for 2004.
It is the first time the annual number of British emigrants has exceeded 200,000.
The largest group of new immigrants were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, outnumbering those from Poland and other EU states. Work remains the most reported factor for immigrants, but those arriving to study for at least a year reached a new high of 157,000.
London remains the favourite destination but it is losing popularity, with only 29% of new migrants going there in 2006, compared with 43% in 2000.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said the figures showed that net migration was down for the second year running and 22% lower than in 2004. He said that 194,000 foreign nationals left the country and asylum applications were at their lowest since the early 1990s.
“Nevertheless, the government is driving through sweeping changes to Britain's migration control, including a points system, a unified border force to guard our ports and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals,” he said.
Danny Sriskandarajah a migration expert at the Institute of Public Policy Research, said the data suggested that Britain was becoming a “revolving turnstile” and suggested that numbers have peaked. “More people are on the move than ever before with a million emigrants and immigrants crossing our borders last year. But we've probably seen the crest of the latest immigration wave,” he said.
“It is also clear that immigration is an economic phenomenon, with almost half of those immigrating and emigrating doing so for work-related reasons. This mobility will be increasingly important for the UK's long-term economic prospects.”
The Conservatives' immigration spokesman, Damian Green, said the figures proved that immigration was still unsustainably high.
“This is the direct result of the government's 'open door' approach which has totally failed to consider the impact of immigration on public services, housing and community cohesion,” he said.
Last month the government apologised for underestimating the number of foreign workers coming to Britain over the last decade by 300,000.
Britain was the only large EU country to let citizens of new member states work without restriction when the bloc added 10 mainly East European members in 2004.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, which campaigns against mass immigration, said: “These latest figures show that two thirds of yet another record level of arrivals come from outside the EU and therefore could and should be subject to much tighter controls.”
The new statistics also led Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the cross-party Local Government Association, to call for reform in the way funds are allocated to councils. “No-one has a real grasp of where or for how long migrants are settling, so much-needed funding for local services isn't getting to the right places,” he said.
In response to concerns over pressure on public services, the government decided last month to prolong migration curbs on Bulgarian and Romanian workers.
Last night the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, said she recognised some individual authorities were facing more challenges than others because of the increased number of immigrants. “We continue to work with local government on the best way to manage immigrants,” she said.
Economists also warned the latest figures could foreshadow a wage crisis with fewer immigrants willing to tolerate low pay in the falling labour market as more Britons leave the country. Alan Clarke, an economist at the bank BNP Paribas, said: “Since the start of this year recruitment difficulties have rebounded sharply. I would speculate that this is partly due to the slower migration flows.