DAVID CAMERON insisted that his ambition remains to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands despite official figures showing the number had soared.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that net-long term migration was estimated to be 318,000 in 2014 and the Prime Minister acknowledged the number showed “how far we have to go to reach our goal”.
The data showed that 641,000 immigrants came to the UK in 2014 - up by more than 100,000 from 526,000 in 2013.
Mr Cameron, who announced new laws to control immigration in a speech at the Home Office, said: “Today’s figures show how far we have to go to reach our goal.
“They show that, more than ever, this country needs a majority Conservative Government which really aims to get net migration into the tens of thousands, and that should remain our ambition.”
Under the Prime Minister’s plans, illegal workers will be stripped of their earnings.
The ONS net migration figure - which denotes the number of people entering the country minus the number leaving - is the highest for a calendar year since current records started in 1975 and the second highest for any 12-month period. The peak figure was 320,000, which was recorded in the year to June 2005.
Estimated net migration rose by a “statistically significant” 109,000 compared to 2013 - the biggest increase for a calendar year on record.
The Prime Minister continued: “It’s disappointing that we haven’t made more progress, but I take these figures as a clear instruction to deliver and to deliver faster.”
Mr Cameron paid tribute to the contribution made by immigrants to British society, saying “these people make our country strong” but stressed the need for controls.
He continued: “While a strong country isn’t one that pulls up the drawbridge, it is one that properly controls immigration.
“That’s what people of all backgrounds voted for, and I believe they were right to do so.
“Why is it right? Because if you have uncontrolled immigration you have uncontrolled pressure on public services.
“That raises basic issues of fairness: uncontrolled immigration can damage our labour market and push down wages, and working people rightly want a government that’s on their side.
“Uncontrolled immigration means too many people coming to the UK legally, but staying illegally.
“People are fed up with a system that allows those who are not meant to be in our country to remain here.”
Under a package of measures aimed at dealing with immigration, foreign criminals who face being kicked out of the country will also be tagged and tracked by GPS satellites while “deport first, appeal later” measures will be extended to all non-asylum cases.
In an Immigration Bill to be included in next week’s Queen’s Speech, a new offence of illegal working will be created that is aimed at deterring migrants who enter the country without permission. It will give police powers to use proceeds-of-crime laws to seize wages from all illegal migrants.
Councils will be given powers to deal with unscrupulous landlords and speed up the evictions of migrants who are in the country illegally.
Banks will be forced to check accounts against illegal migrant databases while businesses and recruitment agencies will be banned from carrying out overseas recruitment without advertising in the UK.
Exploitation of workers will also be tackled through a labour market enforcement agency.
Mr Cameron announced the creation of a new Immigration Taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, which will hold every part of government to account for playing its part in a “relentless drive to properly control immigration”.
And he said a key part of the drive would involve changes to welfare rules, so EU migrants who come to the UK without a job offer have to leave after six months if they fail to find work, and cannot claim in-work benefits for four years. He cited details from the new ONS figures showing that 86,000 EU citizens came to the UK last year to look for a job.
Mr Cameron announced a consultation on changes to “significantly” reduce migration by professionals whose skills are deemed by the Migration Advisory Committee to be in short supply - a list which usually includes a number of medical specialities. The MAC may be required to limit the period of time a profession can be considered to be in shortage, in order to encourage sector which are “over-reliant” on migrants to train more Britons.
While Britain would still “roll out the red carpet” for the “brightest and best” who wish to come and work or study here, it must improve training of its home-grown workforce so that “we only bring in workers from outside Europe where we have genuine skills shortages or require highly-specialist experts”, said the PM.
Mr Cameron blamed Liberal Democrats in the previous coalition government - including former business secretary Vince Cable - for holding back action to reduce immigration, and said the Conservative-only administration would be able to deliver a system that was “tougher, fairer and faster”.
“Frankly, in the last government, the Home Secretary was very keen on controlling immigration, I was very keen on controlling immigration, but sometimes when we got to the Department for Business, we got a rather unwelcome response,” said the Prime Minister.
“We now have a team of ministers in every single department that are dedicated to delivering this agenda, whether they are in the Home Office or the Health Department or the Education Department or DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) or wherever else.”
Home Secretary Theresa May, who introduced the Prime Minister, said net migration was “still too high” but stressed that the Liberal Democrats had not shared the Tory commitment to reducing it.
She said: “When we came into government five years ago we set out our ambition to reduce net migration to the sustainable levels of the 1990s, in the tens rather than the hundreds of thousands.
“For the last five years we were in coalition with a party which didn’t share that ambition. As the figures released today show, net migration is still too high.
“But now we have a majority Conservative Government, a government elected to deliver a manifesto which renews that ambition and which containes the further reforms our immigration system needs.”
Mr Cameron insisted that his ambition of bringing net migration below 100,000 was “achievable” even at a time when Britain’s buoyant growth, in comparison to other EU states, made it an attractive destination for those seeking work.
And he said: “Britain is one of the most successful multi-racial democracies in the world. I am so proud of that.
“But to sustain that success, immigration needs to be controlled. After all, that was the clear instruction at the election. With this Immigration Bill, with these other measures, with our EU renegotiations and with a fully Conservative government, we will do just that.
“Our approach will be tougher, fairer and faster. It will put an end to the houses packed full of illegal workers, stop people stalling deportation with spurious appeals, give British people the skills to do the jobs we need and deliver what people want - what they voted for.
“We’ve got the majority to do that now. We’re not wasting a second. So we’re going to get on - and we’re going to do it.”
Simon Walker, director general of the Institute Of Directors, said: “The Government’s approach of wedding themselves to a net migration target is very hard to understand. Policy-makers have no control over how many UK citizens leave each year, and if the economy were faring worse and more people were emigrating, the net figure would be lower.
“By setting a target that is neither achievable not desirable, they have only undermined faith in the whole system.”
Mr Walker added: “International students and highly-skilled individuals from abroad bring substantial benefits to the UK, but business groups cannot have a tin-ear to the widespread public unease about immigration.
“Companies need migrants to be able to fill skills gaps, but that is a different issue to making sure immigration law is properly enforced, including cracking down on the small number of bad employers who break the rules.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “David Cameron is taking people for fools. On the day he has promised yet again to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, these figures show it is over three times that target.
“Both EU and non-EU net migration are considerably higher than in June 2010, after five years of David Cameron and Theresa May’s broken promises. This massive gap between rhetoric and reality, between promise and delivery, just destroys trust in anything ministers say on immigration.”
Employment law expert Omer Simjee, of Irwin Mitchell, said: “By wrapping new criminal sanctions around the practices surrounding the employment of migrant workers, the Government will no doubt be scaring employers away from employing people from overseas - which looks like it might be the objective here.
“Under the Government’s proposed plans, it looks like anyone involved in facilitating illegal working could be guilty of a criminal offence. It will become increasingly important for employers to ensure they have carried out the requisite checks before and during the employment of all workers in order to satisfy themselves that the worker has the right to be and work in the UK.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick said: “The Tories promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands but failed spectacularly. Instead of admitting their target was a stupid idea, they have pushed the ‘let’s sound tough on immigration’ button yet again.
“Theresa May needs to get it in to her head - not all immigration is bad. If she was serious about cracking down on illegal immigration she should concentrate on what works and not tar all immigrants with the same brush.
“Instead, the Tories’ plan to meet their unworkable and frankly ridiculous target involves kicking out foreign students, funding ‘Go home’ vans and forcing landlords to carry out visa checks.”