Net migration into Britain rose slightly last year, primarily as a result of fewer Britons and EU citizens leaving the country to live abroad, according to official figures released last week.

Overall, 176,000 more people arrived to live in the UK in 2012 than left, figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed. This was up from 153,000 the previous year and a long way from the pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce net migration from non-EU countries to less than 100,000 by 2015.

While the number of immigrants arriving in the UK actually fell last year from 566,000 to 497,000, the net figure rose because of a fall from 351,000 to 321,000 in the number emigrating from Britain.

Sarah Mulley, associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, said, "Today's statistics suggest the government is running out of options to meet its target to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 by 2015.

"Recent declines have been driven in large part by falling numbers of international students, which has come at a high economic cost, but this trend now appears to be levelling off. The government cannot further reduce student numbers without imposing even more significant costs on the education sector and the UK economy."

But Immigration Minister Mark Harper commented, "Net migration is down by a third since its peak in 2010. Our reforms are working and are building an immigration system that works in the national interest. We have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, but are still encouraging the brightest and best to come here to study and work.

"Immigration from outside the EU is now at its lowest level for 14 years. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for our world-class universities, and an increase in the number of visas issued to skilled workers.

"We are committed to bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. We are working across government to protect public services and ensure our welfare system is not open to abuse. The Immigration Bill, which will be introduced later this year, will make it easier to remove people who have no right to be in this country."

The figures revealed that about 180,000 non-EU students arrived in the UK for formal study in 2012, compared to 232,000 the previous year. In total, the number of visas issued fell four per cent to 501,840 in the year ending June 2013, 204,469 of them being issued for the purpose of study - a fall of five per cent.

About 179,000 people migrated to the UK for work, down from 184,000 the previous year.