Biggest Fall in Immigration for 20 Years

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Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent

MIGRATION into Britain has seen the biggest fall in 20 years, official figures revealed yesterday.

A total of 536,000 foreigners came to live here in 2011, 42,000 fewer than the year before.

The drop was the biggest since immigration went down by 61,000 during the 1991 recession.

The numbers entering Britain were the lowest since 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Eastern European workers were allowed in.

The main reason for the cut in numbers was a dramatic reduction in those arriving on student visas.

Ministers hailed the figures as a major step towards achieving the Government's aim of reducing immigration to the levels of the 1990s.

The key net migration figure - the number added to the population after both immigration and emigration have been counted - dropped by nearly 25 per cent from 242,000 to 183,000.

Students coming in to join courses at further education colleges went down by 67 per cent, while those going to English language schools fell by 76 per cent.

However the number of foreign students going to British universities went up by 1 per cent.

Student numbers have come down following limits on study visas for those living outside the European Union and a crackdown on bogus colleges used as routes to cheat the immigration system.

New methods, such as interviews to check the English language skills of prospective students, were introduced last year.

The number of student visas issued was 26 per cent down on the previous year. There have also been tighter controls on the issue of work visas for low-skilled workers from outside the EU.

The figures are a relief to Home Secretary Theresa May and the Prime Minister, who have promised to reduce net immigration to below 100,000. Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: 'This is a significant fall in net migration and the total number of visas issued is at its lowest since 2005.

'This shows we are bringing immigration back under control. Our tough policies are taking effect and this marks a significant step towards bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. …