Rishi Sunak insisted immigration was not out of control despite figures showing net migration has hit a record high.
The Prime Minister, who has promised to reduce immigration and is under pressure from the Tory right to act on the issue, said the net migration figure of an estimated 606,000 for 2022 was “too high”.
Office for National Statistics estimates show a total of 1.2 million people are likely to have migrated to the UK in 2022, while 557,000 are thought to have left the UK in the same period.
“And I want to bring them down.”
He said measures put in place this week to prevent overseas students bringing dependants with them “are significant” and will bring levels down over time.
Asked whether immigration is out of control, Mr Sunak said: “Well, no, I think the numbers are just too high.”
Tory concerns about immigration were laid out in the Commons as MPs demanded to know how the level would be reduced.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said: “We expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.”
But veteran Tory Sir Edward Leigh told the Commons: “Some people in the Treasury seem to think a good way to grow the economy is to fill the country up with more and more people, but this is bad for productivity and bad for British workers who are being undercut by mass migration from all over the world.”
Tory MP Martin Vickers said: “The anger and frustration of my constituents has been focused on illegal migration up until now, but that anger and frustration will grow when they consider these legal migration figures.
“We’re creating, roughly speaking, eight new parliamentary constituencies with this number and if that continues it’s clearly unsustainable.”
The Government faces a balancing act, with years of Tory promises to cut net migration coming up against demands from businesses and public services for overseas workers to fill skills gaps.
The figures have also been inflated by people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and the decision to offer a route out of Hong Kong.
But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper pointed to a 119% increase in work visas granted in the year to March 2023 compared to 2019 as evidence that the Government has “no plan and no grip” on the immigration system.
She also highlighted Home Office figures showing a rise in the backlog of asylum claims to 172,758.
She said: “Ministers have completely failed to tackle skills shortages, especially in health and social care, or to get people back into work after Covid.
“Net migration should come down and we expect it to do so.
“Support we have rightly given to Ukrainians and Hong Kongers has unusually affected the figures this year.
“But that can’t disguise the fact that the Conservatives’ chaotic approach means that work visas are up 119%, net migration is more than twice the level ministers were aiming for, and the asylum backlog is at a record high despite Rishi Sunak promising to clear it this year.”
SNP home affairs spokeswoman Alison Thewliss hit out at the “Westminster obsession with net migration figures” and claimed “the UK government is failing to attract the talent we need in key sectors to boost our economy and NHS – showing why Scotland needs the full powers of independence and control over migration”.