UK
22/05/2014 12:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2014 12:59 BST

It's European Elections Day, Immigration Figures Could Not Have Come At A Worse Time

Britain has put off thousands of international students coming to Britain to study, analysts claimed, as official figures revealed hike in immigration from the EU, but a fall from other nations.

As voters took to the polls in European and local elections, the Office for National Statistics revealed some 201,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK in the year ending December 2013, a "statistically significant" rise on the 158,000 the previous year.

The figures are dismal for David Cameron, having promised both to reduce net migration to below 100,000 and to attract international students from countries such as China and India.

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The immigration figures are bad news for David Cameron on the day of polling

Net migration - the difference between migrants leaving and arriving in the UK - rose to 212,000 in the period, from 177,000 the previous year.

Many analysts drew attention to a drastic drop in what is believed to be the number of international students. The number of non-EU citizens immigrating to the UK dropped to 249,000 in the same period, from 260,000 the previous year, due to fewer New Commonwealth citizens - such as those from India - arriving to study.

Of the EU citizens arriving in Britain, most were from pre-2004 EU countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal, up from 85,000 in the previous year.

Around 70,000 citizens came from EU8 countries including Poland, which joined the EU in 2004, compared with 60,000 in the previous year.

23,000 citizens of Romania and Bulgaria arrived in the period, before employment curbs for the two nations were lifted, up from 9,000 previous year.

Against a backdrop of growing concerns of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians to the UK, and a surge in popularity for Ukip, the Prime Minister last year rushed through a series of tough measures to clamp down on "abuse" of free movement between EU member states.

The party leader Nigel Farage said Cameron "has broken his solemn promise to the British people".

"It is also clear that we are seeing a very significant surge in immigration into the British labour market from Romania and Bulgaria as well as a more general rise in EU immigration, just as I forecast. Enough's enough."​

But the lifting of labour restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarians appears to have made scant difference to the numbers coming. Most of the 65,000 in the country had come before the restrictions were lifted, just 22% applied after January 1.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "The flood of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria has not arrived and these figures show that they were already in the country.

"The need for estimates is plainer than ever. Only by knowing the facts can we ensure that the immigration debate cannot be hijacked by those looking to stir up racial tensions."

Barbara Roche, chairman of the campaign group Migration Matters Trust, said: "Immigration is rising because the economy is growing. Without migrants to plug skills gaps, businesses would struggle to grow and the recovery would be put at risk.

"Let's not forget that we currently have over 600,000 unfilled jobs in the British economy, the highest level since before the recession.

"Any precipitate action to choke off migration would hit businesses that are looking to consolidate and expand after many tough years, and ultimately, would increase insecurity for the millions of British workers in these firms."

Mark Hilton, head of immigration policy at London First, an independent business membership organisation, accused the Government of "hypocrisy" over its immigration target.

He said: "Again we've been shown it's EU migrants that are driving immigration numbers and there's nothing we can do about that.

"Meanwhile, George Osborne claims it is the 'left and the populist right' who want to 'pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world', when the immigration target sends out precisely this message.

"They are cultivating a reputation of the UK as a place where the high-skilled talent we need, and the foreign students who flock to our universities, are unwelcome.

"Take overseas students - worth £10 billion a year to the UK economy - the number of them starting courses in England has fallen for the first time in almost 30 years because the word is the UK has taken in the welcome mat."

Immigration and security minister James Brokenshire said in a statement: "Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on our public services and forces down wages for people on low incomes.

"While recent net migration levels remain stable the figures show that it has fallen by a third since its peak in 2005 under the last government and that this Government's reforms have cut net migration from outside the EU to levels not seen since the late 1990s."