Immigrants from eastern Europe top 345,000

MORE than 345,000 eastern Europeans have come to work in Britain since the expansion of the European Union, the Home Office revealed yesterday.

There were 345,410 who signed up to a special work registration scheme from 1 May, 2004 to the end of 2005.

The total arriving in the final quarter of last year dipped to just under 50,000 compared with nearly 61,000 in the previous three months, the figures showed.

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Research commissioned by the government had previously estimated that annual applications from the eight accession countries would be no more than 5,000 to 13,000.

The new figures came as separate Home Office statistics revealed that the number of new asylum applications fell 2 per cent in the final quarter of 2005 to 6,165 compared with the previous three months.

Of immigrants from eastern Europe, Poles made up the largest group - 59 per cent of total applicants - followed by Lithuanians (13 per cent) and Slovaks (11 per cent). East Anglia overtook London as the destination for the most foreign workers, at 16 per cent compared with the capital's 15 per cent.

The eight countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "We welcome any progress in making the immigration and asylum system more efficient, but the government is still taking too long to remove those whose applications have failed."

The number of failed asylum seekers removed from Britain from October to December was 3,525, up 2 per cent on the previous three months. But the figure was still below the government target of removing more than the number of new arrivals each month.

Ministers had admitted they would fail to meet the target by the end of last year. It may not be hit until later this year.