London: Migration into Britain has seen the biggest fall in 20 years, official figures have revealed.
A total of 536,000 foreigners came to live here in 2011, 42,000 fewer than the year before, according to the figures released on Thursday.
According to The Daily Mail, 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 percent from 242,000 to 183,000.
Students coming in to join courses at further education colleges went down by 67 percent, while those going to English language schools fell by 76 percent. However, the number of foreign students going to British universities went up by 1 percent.
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 percent 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.
"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," Immigration Minister Mark Harper said. "At the same time, we continue to attract the brightest and best: these figures show that there has been a small increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for the university sector - and a further increase in student visit visas. It`s clear that international students continue to come to the UK`s world renowned universities," he said.
Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps said that the Conservatives in Government are committed to getting immigration under control.
"This big fall in net migration shows that the tough steps we have taken to reduce the uncontrolled immigration that Labour presided over are working," Shapps said.
The results won approval from Migrationwatch, the think-tank which has led criticism of high immigration.
"At last we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. We can now see the first effects of the Government`s measures to reduce immigration. There is a distance to go but they are on the right track," chairman, Migrationwatch, Sir Andrew Green said.
Sarah Mulley, of the left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research, said this fall in net migration has been driven by a significant fall in the number of foreign students coming to the UK.
"Steps to reduce abuse of the student visa system are welcome, but if the Government`s net migration target is to be met, there also needs to be a dramatic fall in the numbers of genuine foreign students. This will come at a significant economic cost," Mulley said.
Emigration from Britain helped drive down the net migration total. In the year to the end of March, 353,000 people left to live abroad, compared with 336,000 in the previous year.
Study was the main reason for immigration, but there was an eight percent drop in the number of those coming here for formal study, with 2,13,000 students arriving this year compared to a peak of 2,32,000 in the year to March 2011.
Yesterday, it was revealed that more than 150,000 suspected bogus students from outside the EU have been allowed to stay here since 2009 despite border officials being warned they may have breached their visas.