The number of foreign-born people living in Yorkshire has soared by almost 80 per cent in the past decade, according to a major new analysis of the 2011 census by leading academics.
A study published by Oxford University reveals the changing face of Yorkshire during the first decade of the century, concluding the number of people born outside the UK but now living in the region rose from 260,000 to more than 460,000 between 2001 and 2011.
The academics have stressed the rise is broadly in line with other parts of the country over the same period, and that the proportion of foreign-born people in Yorkshire remains below the UK average, at under nine per cent.
Labour’s Fabian Hamilton, the MP for Leeds North East, said the influx of people from other countries has “enriched” the region.
But Conservative politicians seized on the figures to emphasise what they described as an “open-door policy” under the previous Labour Government.
Simon Reevell, the MP for Dewsbury, said: “In terms of the pace of it, I’m not particularly surprised. If you have 10 years of open-door immigration policy, you end up with these sorts of figures. We all know the impact this has had.
“I just think it shows a complete disregard for the historic and cultural significance of the British way of life. We as a country welcome those who want to come and contribute, but an open-door policy does nobody any good.”
Unsurprisingly, the research shows huge regional variations across different parts of Yorkshire.
The majority of Yorkshire’s foreign-born people are still to be found in West Yorkshire, despite significant increases in areas such as Hull and Doncaster. In Leeds the number of foreign-born people rose by more than 80 per cent to 86,000. In Bradford the figure rose by 62 per cent to 89,000.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, has accepted the previous Labour Government made mistakes on immigration.
But Leeds MP Mr Hamilton made a passionate defence of how immigrants have improved Yorkshire life over many years.
“People may be lining up to say that this is putting strains on schools and doctors surgeries and infrastructure, but I would like to see what the actual evidence is for that,” he said. “I would say the influx has enriched Yorkshire.
“Yorkshire has not lost any of its essential character. But we gain from people coming and adding a little bit. Are we really saying Yorkshire must forever remain exactly as it always was?
“My experience is that most people who come here from within the EU, and indeed beyond, come here to work and to contribute and to better themselves – and that has got to be a good thing.”
Dr Carlos Vargas-Silva, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said it was important to note that almost half the foreign-born population of Yorkshire actually hold a UK passport, and that some of them will be children of British Armed Forces personnel born overseas.
“Yorkshire has seen substantial increase in its non-UK born population,” he said. “However, it is still important to remember that many foreign-born residents are also British citizens.”
The coalition Government has made clear it intends to clamp down on immigration with a raft of new measures including tighter entry rules and restrictions on the benefits available to new arrivals.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Net migration has fallen by more than a third since 2010, and is now at its lowest level for a decade.
“We will continue to create an immigration system that works in our interest and attracts people who contribute to life in the UK, and deters those who do not.”