Record numbers of people are leaving Britain at the same time as immigration is slowing down, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.
The UK has seen a huge influx of immigrants since the EU expanded in 2004 allowing citizens of former Eastern Bloc countries free movement of labour.
Over of 683,000 eastern Europeans, mostly Poles, have applied to work in Britain, one of only three EU countries that did not impose restrictions on citizens of the accession countries.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU this year, the UK government decided to impose restrictions on their citizens seeking to work in the UK.
In the first half of 2007, only 17,360 Bulgarians and Romanians arrived in the UK, far below many expectations of up to 300,000 in the first year.
The overall rate of immigration has slowed considerably in the past year. In the second quarter of 2007, applications fell to 50,000 – 6,000 lower than the same period in 2006. This will come as no surprise to anyone applying for a Work Permit in the last six months.
What is surprising is that figures released last month suggest for the first time that the boom in immigration from Eastern Europe is not permanent. Some 16,000 people from eastern European states, including Poland, Slovakia and Estonia, left the UK last year after living here for more than a year.
Immigration into the UK remains heavily concentrated on London, south-east England and the east of England, which leaves many employers in more rural areas still struggling to fill vacancies.
The cumulative effect of immigration means that a quarter of British babies are now born to a foreign parent.
Experts believe that without immigration to the UK the population could go into decline, shrinking the working age population and compounding the problem of how to support an ageing society.
In 2006 England recorded a population of 50,762,900, Scotland 5,116,900, Wales 2,965,900 and Northern Ireland 1,741,600.
But in May, four local authorities – Westminster, Slough, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea – complained a new method of counting migrants massively underestimates the real number of people moving to Britain and leads to council under funding.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, has defended the Office of National Statistics data.
He said: “They [the ONS] spend quite a lot of time talking to authorities and other parts of government up and down the country about what is needed.”
It is estimated there is still a backlog of 450,000 failed asylum seekers living in Britain, many of whom could be granted amnesty under a controversial new scheme.
Emigration is currently running at the highest rate since records began in 1991.
In total 385,000 people quit the UK last year, as the trend was accelerated by a rise in foreigners returning to their home countries.
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