More than half of Britons want immigration levels to be reduced, a study of British social attitudes has revealed.
The study by NatCen Social Research also shows support for welfare reform and a widespread anxiety about the prospect of further spending cuts.
The last 15 years has seen the largest inflow of immigrants into Britain in its history. Over the same period, opposition to immigration has increased, as has concern about its economic and cultural impact.
People are not opposed to migration across the board; they strongly favour migrants they see to be socially beneficial.
More than anything, what sways British voters in favour of migration is the perception that migrants are highly qualified.
The study revealed that a half (51%) would like to see immigration levels reduce a lot, up from 39% in 1995. A further 24% would like to see levels reduce a little.
Over half (52%) think migrants are generally bad for Britain's economy, up from 43% in 2002. A similar proportion (48%) think migration undermines Britain's cultural life, up from 33% in 2002.
The sharpest rise in concern has been among those without qualifications and with lower skills.
The characteristics of different types of migrant, particularly their qualification levels, are strongly linked to people's attitudes towards them. For example, the researchers asked about migrants from Eastern Europe who come to Britain to seek work. In cases where the migrants are highly skilled professionals, 59% think this is good for Britain; if they are unskilled labourers, support falls to 19%.
People are generally positive about student migration to Britain, although this does depend on qualifications.
Students with good qualifications are regarded favourably, while students with poor grades are strongly opposed. The British clearly accept the case for student migration, though only when academic standards are maintained.
Penny Young, Chief Executive of NatCen Social Research, comments: "These findings uncover tough challenges ahead for the coalition government. Less than half way through the Parliament, there is already concern about cuts and their effect on public services. However, more encouragingly for Ministers, there is clear support for welfare and immigration reform – two areas we are already seeing emerge as key battlegrounds for the next general election."