Net migration has fallen by the highest figure in four years, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures showed that net migration – the gap between the number of people arriving in the country and the number emigrating – fell to 183,000 in the year to March 2012. This is down from 242,000 in the year before.
Overall, the number of migrants coming to the UK from outside the European Union fell by seven per cent. The number of foreign workers coming in to the country was down by nine per cent, while foreign student figures fell by eight per cent.
Mark Harper, UK immigration minister, commented on the news, suggesting that it shows the government's tough new policies are “bringing immigration back under control”.
He added: “This marks a significant step towards bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousand to the tens of thousands by the end of this parliament.”
The figures also buck the trend of previous declines, which have been predominantly caused by fluctuations in emigration. In contrast, two-thirds of the latest drop came from a decline in immigration, with just a third being made up of emigrants.
However, not all areas of immigration showed declines. There was an increase in the number of students moving to the UK from China and Pakistan. In fact, China became the second most common country for all immigrants, with a total of 40,000 students moving across to Britain last year, compared with the 25,000 recorded in the previous year. The number of students coming to the UK from Pakistan also increased from 20,000 to 30,000.
Sarah Mulley, associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank warned that the fall in the numbers of foreign students could bring with it a “significant economic cost”. Echoing earlier statements this week from London mayor Boris Johnson, she remarked: “Steps to reduce abuse of the student visa system are welcome, but if the government’s net migration target is to be met, they also need there to be a dramatic fall in the numbers of genuine foreign students.”