News / World

Net long-term UK immigration hovers at record levels

FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2016 file photo, one Syrian and five Afghan boys wait at the custom checkpoint of the Calais train station, northern France, as they leave for Britain. The British statistics agency said on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, that the number of people migrating to the United Kingdom remains at record levels. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2016 file photo, one Syrian and five Afghan boys wait at the custom checkpoint of the Calais train station, northern France, as they leave for Britain. The British statistics agency said on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, that the number of people migrating to the United Kingdom remains at record levels. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

LONDON — The number of people migrating to the United Kingdom remains at record levels, and the figure for people coming from the European Union is at its highest level ever, the Office of National Statistics said Thursday.

The agency said an unprecedented 284,000 EU citizens are estimated to have arrived in the year to June — right before Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Immigration was a key issue during Britain's EU referendum in June, when Britons voted by 52 per cent to leave the 28-nation bloc. Many who voted "Leave" backed Brexit because they want Britain to have more control over immigration, which is difficult under the EU's freedom-of-movement principle.

British officials have vowed to "take back control" and curb the movement of EU nationals to Britain, but so far it is not clear how that can be achieved.

Helen Bower, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May, said the government stands by its ambition to reduce net migration below 100,000 — a goal the Conservative government set several years ago, but appears increasingly unlikely to meet.

"The government has been clear that we are committed to reducing migration to sustainable levels," she said. "But that it's going to take time."

Net long-term immigration — the difference between the numbers arriving and leaving the country — was estimated at 335,000, down just slightly from 336,000 the year before. Net immigration of EU citizens was 189,000.

For the first time, Romania was the most common country of last residence, making up 10 per cent of all immigrants.

Some 189,000 EU nationals arrived for work, the highest estimate recorded. Officials suggested the rise may in part reflect "weaker labour market conditions" in some southern European countries.

The figures also showed that the number of students coming to Britain had fallen to 163,000, the lowest level in a decade. The drop followed recent measures by officials to crack down on students staying in Britain after finishing their studies.