Net immigration to the United Kingdom surged to 212,000 in the year ending September 2013, a significant increase from 154,000 in the previous year, according to the latest official statistics.
The new immigration data cast considerable doubt on a pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to get net migration—the difference between the number of people entering Britain and those leaving—down to the "tens of thousands" before the general election in May 2015.
According to the latest Migration Statistics Quarterly Report (MSQR), published by the Office for National Statistics on February 27, some 532,000 people migrated to the UK in the year ending in September, up from the 497,000 people who arrived during the previous year, while 320,000 left the country, down from the 343,000 the previous year.
The number of EU citizens arriving in the UK rose to 209,000, up from 149,000 the previous year, while immigration of non-EU citizens was 244,000, down from 269,000 the previous year.
Most of the immigrants to the UK from the EU were from economically troubled countries, including Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain. Most of those arriving from non-EU countries were immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The latest immigration data has been met with criticism from across the political spectrum.
The Labour Party's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government's targets were "in tatters" and its policy was "a mess." She added: "David Cameron promised, 'No ifs, no buts,' to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, yet these figures show net migration has gone up and is now more than twice that figure. Only five months ago, [Home Secretary] Theresa May said that the government had been 'so successful' they should 'get out there and shout about it.' There will be no shouting from ministers today."
The scene at London's Heathrow Airport in 2012, at the the UK Border Agency's passport check. (Image source: Eugene Kaspesrky)
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who is campaigning for Britain's exit from the EU, said: "These latest figures show just how out of control the government is when it comes to controlling immigration in and out of the UK. It is utterly pointless setting immigration targets when you can't even decide who comes in to this country. Until we end the open-door immigration policy with the EU and take back full control over our borders nothing can really be done. It's all smoke and mirrors."
Speaking at the UKIP's spring conference on February 28, Farage said that parts of Britain have become "unrecognizable" due to the impact of mass immigration over the past decade.
"In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly, become unrecognizable. Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact that in many parts of England you don't hear English spoken any more, this is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren."
Farage also said he believes the largest-ever "migratory wave" to Britain is still to come and that the three main political parties in the country are doing nothing to prevent it. According to Farage, Britain has been "betrayed" by "a political class that has sold out to Brussels," resulting in the loss of control over the UK's borders.
A growing number of British voters seem to agree with Farage that immigration is one of the biggest problems facing their society, according to a flurry of surveys and research reports about the current state of affairs in Britain.
A report entitled, "State of the Nation: Where is Bittersweet Britain Heading?" shows that one in three Britons believes that tension between immigrants and people born in Britain is the primary cause of conflict in the country, and well over half regard it as one of the top three causes.
The report also shows that a high proportion of British voters are pessimistic about the British economy (50%), and three-fourths believe there is a severe housing shortage, due in large measure to uncontrolled immigration. More than half (56%) say the current economic crisis will leave Britain weaker for years to come and nearly half (46%) say Britain is heading in the wrong direction.
The findings mirror the results of the British Social Attitudes Survey, an official study conducted annually, which polls Britons on their attitudes about a number of social issues.
The 2012 edition of the survey—which was focused on the impact of immigration—found that Britons are far more strongly opposed to immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, than they have been at any time in recent memory. The document states that 75% of Britons would like to see a reduction in immigration, and that 51% would like to see a large reduction. Moreover, 52% of respondents believe that immigration has a negative economic impact, and 48% believe that it has a negative cultural impact.
The latest immigration are sure to fuel the debate over Britain's future relationship with the European Union. (Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum over the issue in 2017 if the Conservatives retain power.)
According to MigrationWatch UK, an independent think tank that focuses on immigration and asylum issues, the latest immigration figures "are clearly bad news for the government." In a press release, MigrationWatch wrote:
"It is indeed hard to deny the growing tension between the very strong public desire to control and reduce immigration and our continued membership of the EU. The free movement to which our EU partners are fundamentally committed has turned out to have rather different and serious implications for the UK. The fundamental mistake was to expand the EU to include 100 million people with a standard of living of about one quarter of ours."
Anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment among British voters has contributed to UKIP's surge in opinion polls ahead of European elections set for May 22.
Support for UKIP has risen from around 3% in 2010 to about 13% in the latest surveys. This puts UKIP in third place behind the Labour Party (38%) and the ruling Conservatives (33%) but ahead of the coalition-government's junior partner, the Liberal Democrats (10%).
UKIP—which is campaigning on a platform to end "open-door immigration" and to withdraw from the EU—already has 13 elected representatives in the European Parliament, but has never won a seat in the British parliament.
Farage is hoping that strong poll results in the EU elections in May will give his party the momentum it needs to become a major force in British politics. In many ways, this is already happening.
In recognition of the UKIP's growing popularity, the British media regulator Ofcom introduced new rules on March 3 that will require commercial broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 5 to show at least two parliamentary election broadcasts by the UKIP in the run up to the European elections.
Ofcom said that UKIP should now be recognized as a "major party" along with Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as it has "significant aggregate support across England, Wales and Scotland."
Farage sums it up this way: "These elections, in many ways, will be an opportunity for us to tell the political class where to go."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.