Immigration: 'Significant' Rise In Last Year
The Government has suffered a setback in its bid to cut net migration to the tens of thousands after official figures showed arrivals to the UK have soared.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show a "significant increase" in net migration in the year to March, with 243,000 long-term migrants - up from 175,000 the previous year.
The ONS described the net figure of 243,000 - the difference between people arriving in the UK and leaving - as being "statistically significant".
Immigration from within the EU was behind the increase, with 214,000 of a total 560,000 immigrants coming from the European community.
There are now 1.7 million EU nationals employed in the UK - up 17% on the same period last year, the figures revealed. A total of 2.9 million non-UK nationals are currently in employment.
The statistics also showed the number of Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in the UK more than doubled to 28,000 in the year up until March, compared to 12,000 in the previous year.
Restrictions to the labour market were lifted for Romanians and Bulgarians on January 1.
But the number of people leaving the UK - 316,000 - remained stable within the same period.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the Government remained focused on reducing net migration to sustainable levels.
He told Sky News: "Where the Government has introduced visa reforms, changes to the immigration system to control those from outside the EU, we've seen significant changes - they're down about 25% under this Government to levels not seen since the late 1990s.
"Clearly these statistics show significant increases in migration from within the EU, across the EU, that's why the Government has introduced changes to the welfare system on reducing the pull factors, reducing the attractiveness of coming to this country for welfare, but also why we do think that further change around free movement is required.
"Our focus does remain - because it is about pressures on public services, it is about those issues on wages and at the lower end the impact that we do see on the lowest wages, the lowest earners, and those least advantaged in our society which is why the Government does remain focused on reducing net migration to sustainable levels."
Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May had announced a goal to cut net migration to below 100,000 by the next general election on May 7.
Mark Hilton, head of immigration policy at non-profit organisation London First, said: "With the general election fast approaching, the Government is running out of time to hits its 'tens of thousands' target.
"The danger is ministers will take the only real steps open to them and clamp down on skilled non-EU migrants - who bring much-needed skills into the country - and students, who are not only a £10bn market for us, but a key plank in Britain's global influence in terms of 'soft power'."
The figures also revealed that 136,000 EU citizens arrived for work in the UK in the year up until March 2014, with 60% having a definite job to go to when they arrived.