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Blow for Cameron as net migration rises to 239,000

The PM will struggle to meet his pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

David Cameron memorably promised to reduce net migration from "the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands" by the end of this parliament. But the latest figures suggest that this will prove a Sisyphean task. Rather than falling, net migration is rising.

Estimates from the ONS show that net migration to Britain rose by 21 per cent to 239,000 last year, driven by a big fall in emigration (although Sky News leads with the erroneous claim that "immigration" is up to 239,000).The number of people leaving Britain to live abroad for more than 12 months was 336,000 in 2010, the lowest figure since June 2005. Thus, as Sunder Katwala quips, the government would have a better chance of hitting its target if it persuaded more Britons to leave (something George Osborne's economic policies may yet achieve).

Long-term immigration was 575,000, similar to the levels seen since 2004. The number of people coming from outside Europe to work with a definite job offer is at its lowest since 2004 at 110,000. However, immigration from within the EU, which is not subject to the coalition's immigration cap, rose to 39,000 in 2010, compared with 5,000 in 2009. It's unambiguously bad news for the Tories. So long as immigration from eastern Europe remains high and emigration remains low, both trends which ministers have no control over, Cameron cannot hope to meet his pledge.

With 69 per cent of new jobs going to foreign nationals, the migration cap was seen as an important supplement to Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms. But as the ippr's Matt Cavanagh wrote yesterday on The Staggers, it's now clear that the coalition cannot rely on the cap to reduce youth unemployment. The question now is whether the it will impose even more stringent restrictions on immigration or rethink its jobs strategy.

Update: The Sky News website has now removed its misleading claim that "immigration" is up to 239,000.