Home Secretary Theresa May wants to reduce net migration from non-EU countries to less than 100,000 before the next General Election in 2015. But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a net flow of 176,000 migrants came to the UK in the year to December 2012, up from 153,000 in the year to September 2012.
The figures come amid growing concern that Britain will face a new wave of eastern European immigration when access restrictions to the UK labour market for Romania and Bulgaria are lifted on January 1 next year.
Chris Bryant MP, Labour's shadow immigration minister, said the figures were a "blow for Theresa May, exposing once again the Government's empty rhetoric on immigration".
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: "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."