Immigration to Britain today is fundamentally different from previous settlements because it is changing the composition of the nation, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality said last night.
Trevor Phillips, who provoked controversy last year by challenging the concept of multiculturalism and saying that Britain was "sleepwalking to segregation", said the social significance of the current wave of immigration was being overlooked.
More young people were arriving to compete for jobs with settled workers and a growing number of incomers were setting up their own institutions, such as churches, shops and media outlets.
Also, high levels of emigration by British nationals, at a time of record immigration, were having an impact on the make-up of the country.
''The result is that, though the total population numbers may not rise hugely, the composition of the population changes," Mr Phillips said in a speech to the Royal Geographical Society, in London.
He said that while the white ethnic population had fallen over the past 20 years there had been a 96 per cent increase in the number of ethnic minority Britons.
"We desperately need immigrants to sustain our workforce," he said. "But in this new world of more rapid and more diverse immigration, coupled with an unprecedented threat to global security, we cannot continue to pretend that there are no costs faced by our changing communities."
The full speech is here.