New figures showing net migration to the UK remains near record levels have sparked a row between the two sides in the EU referendum debate.
The difference between the number of people leaving and arriving was 323,000 in the year to September.
David Cameron said the figure was “still too high” but the government was taking action to bring it down.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the only way to get immigration under control is to leave the EU in June’s referendum.
The government remains committed to getting net migration below 100,000 by the next election in 2020.
The key points from the latest migration statistics include:
- Net migration was at the second highest level for any 12-month period since comparable records began, according to the Office for National Statistics report
- It was down 4% on the record of 336,000 for the year to July 2015 – the first time it has dropped since the end of 2013 – but up 11% on the previous year
- Net migration of EU citizens to the UK in the year was 172,000
- 165,000 EU citizens came to the UK for work-related reasons – 96,000, or 58%, had a definite job to go to and 69,000, or 42%, came looking for work
- Employment of EU nationals – excluding British citizens – increased by 215,000 to 2 million, according to Labour Force Survey figures for October to December 2015
- Employment of non-EU nationals increased by 38,000 to 1.2 million
- Nearly half of the growth in employment in the UK over the last year was accounted for by foreign nationals
- 45,000 Bulgarians and Romanians came to the UK for work reasons, an increase of 17,000 on the year to September 2014. About two thirds of them had a definite job to go to
- There were 38,878 asylum applications, including dependants, in 2015, an increase of 20% compared with the previous year
- Long-term immigration for study was estimated to be 174,000, down slightly on the previous year. There was a 5% fall in the overall number of applications for visas study at British universities, with a 2% reduction in the number of non-EU applications
Speaking at a question and answer section with BAE employees in Preston, Mr Cameron said the government was taking action “across the board” to bring immigration down.
The prime minister said it was important to “fix the issue of welfare” and his EU deal to limit in-work benefits for new EU migrants would “have an impact”.
Home Secretary Theresa May, who is backing the campaign to remain in the EU, said: “Immigration at this level puts pressure on public services, on housing, on infrastructure… it can hold down wages and push British workers out of jobs.”
But she said Mr Cameron’s reforms would “reduce the pull factor of our welfare system and make it easier for us to deport people who are abusing our generosity”.
Mrs May is in Brussels for crisis talks on limiting migration. Asked if the EU’s response so far had been a mess, she said: “The EU is indeed dealing with a migration crisis and that would be the same whether the UK was in the EU or outside the EU.
“As members of the EU we are able to work with others to strengthen the external borders.”
But Nigel Farage, who is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, said: “As I’ve said for years, we cannot control immigration into Britain while we remain inside the EU. The government pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands continues to be laughable.
“I am pleased that there are now lots of voices agreeing with me, that we must leave the European Union to control our borders.”