More than three quarters of UK voters support an annual limit on immigration from outside the EU, but only one third think the government has introduced such a limit, a new major poll has revealed.
The study, commissioned by former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft, reveals that while a majority supports each of the government's important policies on immigration, most do not know they have been introduced.
It reveals that 70% support a minimum earning threshold for anyone wishing to bring a spouse from outside Europe, but only 25% think one has been set.
While 81% support a minimum probationary period to deter sham marriages, only 25% think one is in place.
The study also shows that 60% believe immigration has produced more disadvantages than advantages for Britain. Twenty three percent say they are about even, and 17% say the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Immigrants "claiming benefits and using public services when they have contributed nothing in return" and "increasing pressure on schools and hospitals" are the biggest concerns.
"Doing jobs that need doing but British people don't want to do" and being "prepared to work harder for lower pay than British workers" are regarded as the main advantages.
When it comes to jobs, 36% say they or someone in their family have found it harder to find work or are paid less because of competition from migrant workers. At the same time, 24% say they or their family have been denied access to housing or other public services because immigrants seem to have been given priority.
Eighty three percent say they or someone in their family have been treated in the NHS by staff originally from overseas, while 13% say they or their family have employed immigrants to do cleaning or building jobs at home.
Almost 80% say they supported the government's 'Go Home Or Face Arrest' ad vans and only 18% thought they were racist. However, only 17% thought the initiative would succeed in persuading illegal immigrants to leave the UK. The research shows that only 37% think people in the UK really have a high chance of being arrested and deported.
Thirty one percent say the Conservatives have the best approach to immigration, followed by UKIP (24%) and Labour (23%). While 43% say Britain would have a tougher immigration policy under a Conservative government with an overall majority, 48% say the policy would be much the same as it is today.
Analysis of the poll findings revealed seven 'segments' of opinion towards immigration in Britain.
The first segment is that of 'Universal Hostility' (16% of the population). They are critical of all aspects of immigration; likely to be working class, middle aged, and with low levels of formal education.
The second segment is that of 'Cultural Concerns' (16%). They are largely older owner-occupiers, particularly concerned about pressure on public services and cultural changes to their local area or in society.
The third segment is that of 'Competing for Jobs' (14%). They often acknowledge that immigrants work hard in low paid jobs, but are worried about competition in the labour market and downward pressure on wages.
The fourth segment is that of 'Fighting for Entitlements' (12%). They are mainly concerned about immigrants competing for public services and benefits, which they think they often receive at the expense of established residents.
The fifth segment is that of 'Comfortable Pragmatists' (22%). They are largely graduates and professionals and show little concern about immigration as an issue, thinking immigration has enriched society as well as putting pressure on public services.
The sixth segment is that of 'Urban Harmony' (9%). These are young people, ethnically diverse and largely city-based. They are more positive than most about immigration and less supportive of measures to restrict immigration.
The last segment is that of 'Militantly Multicultural' (10%). They are dominated by graduates and professionals, with a large public sector contingent. They are overwhelmingly positive about nearly every aspect of immigration, with most saying that migrants have made their area a better place to live.
In the introduction to his report, “Small Island: Public Opinion And The Politics Of Immigration”, Lord Ashcroft writes: "Whatever people's view of immigration itself, few think any recent government has had any real grasp of it, or that any of the parties does today: politicians underestimated the size of the challenge, lost control of the situation, refused for too long to acknowledge that any problems might result and are now struggling but failing to cope.
“Most do not feel there is any strategy for dealing either with the number of migrants, for their successful integration into British society, or for managing the effects they see or fear in terms of housing, infrastructure, jobs, the NHS, schools, or the benefits system."
Commenting on the range of opinion towards immigration revealed in the research, Lord Ashcroft observed: “Public opinion on immigration is more varied, and certainly more nuanced, than is sometimes supposed. At the same time, while those who take the most favourable view often regard opponents as backward-looking and fearful of change, those who are most concerned think supporters of immigration are insulated from its more challenging consequences."
Noting that most people were not aware of the measures the government had introduced to control immigration, he said: "Of course, most of these things take place well out of sight of most voters. Reducing net migration is not something that will be achieved before their eyes. More to the point, the people whose communities have changed will not see them change back, and those competing for jobs will still to have to do so.
"In the end, migration is inseparable from global economic conditions; governments appear as powerless to manage the first as to deal with the consequences of the second."