London: The number of Indians coming into Britain to work and study has registered a significant drop over the past year, according to official figures released on Thursday.
The Indian subcontinent countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh led a "statistically significant" decrease in the net migration of citizens from outside the European Union, according to the figures.
Immigration to the UK by so-called New Commonwealth citizens, which includes African countries, fell from 151,000 in the year ending December 2011 to 97,000 in the year ending December 2012, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) said.
It is believed this fall is largely a result of fewer people arriving to study in Britain from these countries, confirming fears in sections of the UK Cabinet that Britain is making it tougher for Indian subcontinent students to apply for courses.
Tougher visa policies have been driving these overseas students, who pay much higher fees, to other countries like the US and Australia.
This is backed up by visa figures, which indicate around 180,000 immigrants arrived in the UK for formal study in the year to December 2012, compared to 232,000 the previous year.
However, Immigration Minister Mark Harper welcomed the trend.
"Immigration from outside the EU is now at its lowest level for 14 years. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for our world-class universities, and an increase in the number of visas issued to skilled workers," he said.
The latest ONS data revealed that overall net migration into Britain has risen slightly as fewer British and EU citizens emigrated from the country.
A net flow of 176,000 migrants came to the UK in the year to December 2012, up from 153,000 in the year to September 2012. The increase was driven by a drop in the number of migrants leaving Britain, which fell from 351,000 to 321,000.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May want to reduce net migration from non-EU countries to less than 100,000 before the next election in 2015.
"We are committed to bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Net migration is down by a third since its peak in 2010," Harper said.
"Our reforms are working and are building an immigration system that works in the national interest. We have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, but are still encouraging the brightest and best to come here to study and work."
The number of immigrants arriving for study in the UK is now similar to the estimated number of people arriving for work, the ONS said.