Three quarters of the British public polled in a BBC survery want to see immigration cut and fewer people than ever believe such a cut would be bad for the economy.
The survey forms the basis of a BBC2 documentary The Truth about Immigration, which will air tonight (7 January) at 9.30pm. The findings came a week after access restrictions to the UK labour market were lifted for Romanians and Bulgarians.
According to the NatCen Social Research's British Social Attitudes 2013 survey for the BBC, around 47% of people believe that immigrants are a drain on the economy - compared to 52% two years previously.
Fifty-four percent of respondents see immigration as beneficial to the economy but 55% of those who regard it is as culturally valuable also want to see it reduced.
The poll results highlighted divisions among political party supporters. About 40% of Labour supporters believed immigration is bad for the economy, while 36% disagree. The research shows 41% of Labour voters think immigration is good for British culture and 40% believe otherwise.
Around 52% of Conservative supporters think British culture is undermined by the current immigration laws, compared to just 20% of Liberal Democrat supporters.
The NatCen survey revealed that immigration is the least popular among the public with few or no qualifications.
Chief executive at NatCen Social Research Penny Young said that although a majority of people think immigration is good for economic and cultural reasons - they "still want to see it cut".
"British Social Attitudes shows that public desire for a cut in immigration to the UK had begun to rise even before the restrictions on migrants from Romania or Bulgaria were lifted at the start of the year.
"These findings highlight the complexity of this issue for politicians facing two elections in 18 months and with limited options if they want to attempt to reduce migration from Europe.
"The public broadly agrees that immigration is too high, but there are stark social divisions over the economic and cultural benefits of immigration."
In an interview with BBC political editor Nick Robinson for the documentary, Vince Cable said that the Conservative government's pledge to slash net immigration to the "tens of thousands" was unachievable.
The Liberal Democrat business secretary in the coalition government said the target was impractical and certain to be broken, because it was not possible to control EU migration of Britons leaving or returning to the UK.