The Prime Minister's pledge to slash the number of immigrants coming to the UK by 2015 looks even less likely to be met after official figures showed that net long-term migration had jumped by 68,000 over the past year.

The Office for National Statistics said that net long-term migration to the UK hit 243,000 in the year ending March 2014 – a "statistically significant increase" from 175,000 in the previous 12 months.

The research body also revealed that immigration of European Union citizens increased to 214,000 in the year ending March 2014, up from 170,000 last year.

The findings come after David Cameron promised to cut the UK's net migration levels to below 100,000 by 2015.

"Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and forces down wages," said James Brokenshire MP, the immigration and security minister.

"That's why our focus remains on controlling migration at sustainable levels.

"We are creating a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants but is tough on those who flout the rules."

The ONS also said that one in three migrants to the UK were students (177,000) and 228,000 were migrating to work.

Elsewhere, research from Universities UK and thinktank British Future found that the British public are opposed to reducing the number of international students and do not consider them as "immigrants".

The organisations, which commissioned ICM Research to question more than 2,000 people in June, found that almost six out of ten (59%) respondents said that the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if this makes it harder to reduce immigration numbers.

The research also revealed that only a fifth (22%) of people thought of international students as immigrants.

The survey also found that the majority of people (75%) are in favour of allowing international students to stay on and work after they finish their degree, and 60% of respondents said that international students bring money into the local economy.