Visa Nationals – overseas visitors from countries requiring a visa to enter the UK – are now having their fingerprints taken in an attempt to control illegal immigration, according to a Home Office Minister.
In a year which will see the biggest immigration shake up in history, the official announcement follows a series of speeches and a promised crackdown on illegal employment.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said in BBC Radio 4 interview today that the new system, completed three months ahead of schedule, has already spotted 500 cases of identity swapping.
“The new fingerprinting technology had caught people who had chosen not to give us their correct identity” Mr Byrne said.
In his speech, Mr Byrne outlined 10 key changes to the UK‘s border controls to be implemented in 2008:
- Check fingerprints before a visa is issued – within the next 15 days.
- Spot fines for employers who do not make right-to-work checks – within 60 days
- Commence new ‘points system’ for managing migration – within 80 days
- Introduce a single border force and police-like powers for frontline staff – within 100 days
- Confirm number of foreign national prisoners deported in 2008 exceeds 2007 – within 180 days
- Activate powers to automatically deport foreign national prisoners – within 200 days
- Expand detention capacity – within 300 days
- Begin issuing compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals who want to stay – within 300 days
- Count foreign nationals in and out of the country – by Christmas
- Within 360 days to make and enforce 60% asylum decisions within six months
Under the new rules, anyone applying for a visa must submit to a digital finger scan, which has replaced the old ink fingerprints, and a full-face digital photograph.
A similar system has already being used for many years at airports in countries such as the USA and Thailand and will not come as a complete surprise to visitors and migrants.
The UK requirement will apply, at visa application stage, to 133 countries, which account for three quarters of the world’s population, and involve fingerprints being checked against UK databases.
Cynthia Barker, Recruitment Manager of Bison UK, said that the changes were “inevitable”, and form part of a “huge overhaul including ID cards for foreign nationals and an ‘in and out’ checking process for all visitors to the UK”.
The project rollout was due to be completed by April, but Mr Byrne said it had been finished three months early and under budget.
“The public wants stronger borders,” he said. “They want us to shut down the causes of illegal immigration and hold newcomers to account, deporting rule breakers where necessary.
“They want a compassionate system, which makes and enforces decisions fast when we have obligations to honour – and lets those we need contribute to Britain as long as they speak English, pay tax and obey the law.”
The Home Office has confirmed that one million people have given their biometric fingerprints so far. Of those 10,000 visa applicants were shown to have been fingerprinted in the UK before, in connection with immigration cases or asylum applications.
Among other measures within the plan are fines of up to £10,000 for employers who negligently hire illegal immigrants. Company bosses could also face up to two years in prison for knowingly employing illegal workers.
‘The Home Office has been caught employing illegal immigrants’
David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary
Opposition party ‘shadow’ Home Secretary David Davis welcomed the introduction of biometric visas – but said without a “dedicated UK border police force” borders would remain vulnerable.
On the subject of fines for employers, he commented: “It is a bit rich for the government to criticise businesses when the Home Office itself enjoys Crown immunity from prosecution in this area and has on several occasions been caught employing illegal immigrants.”
Ministers are also consulting on plans to overhaul how marriage and short term visas are issued, with the proposed introduction of English tests for spouses.
And Mr Byrne said the plan is to increase the number of foreign prisoners being deported from the record 4,200 non-British criminals removed from the UK after serving their sentences in 2007.
The Home Office website clearly states the Government’s objectives to strengthen UK borders and stamp out illegal immigration.
“Taken together, all these measures make-up the biggest shake-up of the immigration system in its history. They allow the UK to continue to reap the benefits of migration, while also preventing abuse of the system”.
Immigration has become an election issue, which puts the Government under enormous pressure to not only cut numbers of migrants, but also deal with the problem of the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants already in the UK.
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