Rise fuelled by growing number of overseas students, data from Office for National Statistics reveals
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Net migration to Britain rose by 20% to 196,000 last year, fuelled by a sharp increase in the number of overseas students coming to the UK to study and a 13% fall in the number of Britons leaving to live abroad.
The net migration figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, reveal that the number of people coming to live in Britain compared with those moving abroad increased by 33,000 from the 2008 total of 163,000.
The increase will make it more difficult for coalition ministers to introduce a permanent cap on immigration that brings net migration numbers down to their stated aim of "tens of thousands a year rather than hundreds of thousands".
"These figures show that Labour's immigration legacy is even worse than anyone feared," the immigration minister, Damian Green said.
"The task facing the new government is to bear down on all routes of immigration. We can now see how necessary our proposed limit on economic immigration is.
"This will be accompanied by action on other routes of immigration and settlement. We will be unveiling these over the coming months."
The annual statistics also show a further fall in the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain – down from 25,930 in 2008 to 24,485.
The number of people removed voluntarily or forcibly deported also fell, down 1% compared with 2008.
The ONS figures highlight one legacy from the surge of immigration in the mid-2000s, with the proportion of new babies born to mothers born outside the UK reaching a record high of 24.7%.
Pakistan, Poland and India top the list for mothers countries' of origin. Newham, in east London, has the highest proportion of such births – more than 75%.
The quarterly immigration and asylum figures for the 12 months to June show sharp falls in the number people coming to work in Britain under the points-based immigration system.
The number of tier one and tier two highly-skilled and skilled visas issued fell from 107,125 to 94,550 during the period. The number of temporary employment visas fell by 17% to 66,495.
At the same time, the number of Poles and other eastern Europeans coming to work in Britain between April and June this year stood at 28,645 – about the same level as last year but half the number of arrivals in 2008.
But while the number of people coming to work in Britain has continued to fall amid the economic downturn, the rise in the number of overseas students in 2009 has continued into the first six months of 2010.
The data shows that 362,015 tier four student visas under the points-based system were issued in the 12 months to June 2010 – a rise of 35% on the previous year.
A decline in the number of Britons going to live abroad for 12 months or more has moderated the increase in the net migration figure.
The ONS estimates that the number of people going to live overseas fell from a peak of 427,000 in 2008 to 371,000 in 2009.
Separate Home Office figures show that the decline in new asylum applications to Britain has also continued this year, with a 29% fall between April and June compared with the same period in 2009.
More than two-thirds of this was accounted for by a decline in applications from Zimbabwe.
A total of 6,100 failed asylum seekers and illegal entrants were held in immigration detention centres last year, including 115 children under the age of 18.
The latest snapshot figures show that only five children were being held in detention under immigration powers on 30 June.
The coalition has pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes.