Over 600,000 migrants arrived in the UK in 2018 — akin to the population of a city the size of Belfast.
The data, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that over a quarter of a million more people arrived with the intention of staying 12 months than left in 2018.
In total over the previous 12 months, 602,000 new people migrated to Britian, while 343,000 emigrated — showing a continued strong trend towards overall net migration, totalling 258,000 people.
The UK also granted asylum, alternative forms of leave or resettlement to 17,304 people in the year ending March 2019 — an increase on the previous year. Grants of protection reached their highest number since 2003.
The ONS report said that "Since 2016, the pattern of migration to the UK for work has been changing. Long-term immigration to the UK for work has fallen, mainly driven by the decline in EU arrivals. Despite this, 99,000 EU citizens still came to the UK long-term to work in 2018, a level similar to 2012. We're also seeing the number of skilled work visas for non-EU citizens increasing, although overall non-EU work-related immigration has remained broadly stable."
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of the pressure group Migration Watch UK, said: "Overall net migration remains at over a quarter of a million — still unacceptably high and despite the uncertainty during 2018, nearly 75,000 more EU arrived than left, as well as 232,000 non-EU nationals.
"The clear message in these figures for the next Prime Minister's that they must make it a priority to deliver on the government’s pledge to reduce immigration levels by a lot, in line with the public’s wishes."
At Christmas, the Home Office released a report about their plans for migration in the coming year which included more work visas. Migration Watch said at the time that "there are, literally, no measures to reduce net migration, now running at 270,000 a year", adding that it "seems certain that these proposals would allow a massive increase in the number of people entering the UK for work, and it's inevitable that many of these would find ways to stay long-term. This isn't control. It's an illusion of control."
This comes despite Conservative Party manifesto pledges in 3 successive elections that net migration would be reduced "from the hundreds of thousands to the 10s of thousands".
In a 2010 speech, Theresa May — who served as Home Secretary from 2010-2016 — condemned the previous Labour government’s record, saying "over Labour’s time in office net migration totalled over 2.2 million people – more than double the population of Birmingham. We can’t go on like this."
However, the Conservative government never did act to curb the number of migrants coming into the country, with hundreds of thousands of people entering each year as before. Former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne infamously wrote in an article for the Evening Standard that the Tory leadership never had any intention of honouring their manifesto pledge to cut net migration to the 10s of thousands.
"None of the Cabinet’s senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that's caused the Conservative Party such public grief," he revealed.