International Students studying in the UK are to be forced to carry a UK Identity Card under the Government’s National Identity Scheme.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith this week unveiled the new UK Identity Card, which will see overseas Students being used as guinea pigs to launch the controversial scheme which will eventually be rolled out to the entire population.
Immigration Matters examines what effect the multi billion pound scheme will have on Student Visa holders.
The much heralded credit-card sized document will show the holder’s photograph, name, date of birth, nationality and immigration status. A secure electronic chip will also hold their biometric details, including fingerprints, and a digital facial image.
Jacqui Smith said:
“We are delivering on our commitment to introduce the National Identity Scheme in order that we can enjoy its benefits as quickly as possible.
“ID cards will help protect against identity fraud, illegal working, reduce the use of multiple identities in organised crime and terrorism, crack down on those trying to abuse positions of trust and make it easier for people to prove they are who they say they are.
“ID cards for foreign nationals will replace old-fashioned paper documents, make it easier for employers and sponsors to check entitlement to work and study, and for the UK Border Agency to verify someone’s identity. This will provide identity protection to the many here legally who contribute to the prosperity of the UK, while helping prevent abuse.”
Compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals will kick start the National Identity Scheme, with the first applicants having to apply for cards from 25 November.
Within three years all foreign nationals applying for leave to enter (visa) or remain in the UK will be required to have a card, with around 90 per cent of foreign nationals in Britain covered by the scheme by 2014/15.
The UK Border Agency is starting with those categories it says that have been “targeted by those wanting to abuse our immigration system, including students and people seeking leave to remain on the basis of marriage”.
The introduction of the card supports the Government’s tough new Australian-style Points Based System for managed migration. To earn and retain their sponsor licence businesses and education providers must keep records of the migrants they have sponsored including, in time, a copy of a migrant’s identity card.
The cards for foreign nationals will eventually be followed by the first ID cards for British citizens with cards being “available” to the general population by 2011/12.
Julian Gravatt, Association of Colleges’ Director of Funding and Development, said:
“Issuing ID cards to overseas students should assist in the reduction of identity fraud.
“Colleges welcome any measure which facilitates the recruitment of genuine students to study in the UK and the economic benefits this brings.”
Cynthia Barker, Centre Manager for NVQ provider Majestic College, which has hundreds of overseas students registered, warned that it could lead to confusion among students and employers.
“The fact that the card will be initially only required by students applying for Further Leave to Remain or varying their leave, and not all students, may lead to confusion.
“Businesses employing students will not know which students should be carrying a card and could refuse to employ someone legally here because they cannot produce an Identity Card.
“Some of our students are already calling the college in a panic, worried that they might get stopped in the street by an immigration officer demanding to see their ID Card.”
Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said identity cards “remained a grotesque intrusion on the liberty of the British people” and the scheme “will prove to be a laminated Poll Tax”.
“The government is using vulnerable members of our society, like foreign nationals who do not have the vote, as guinea pigs for a deeply unpopular and unworkable policy,” he said.
Whilst the British public will welcome any moves to combat illegal immigration or terrorism, it should be remembered that the Identity Card Scheme will take six years to be fully implemented.
In the UK Border Agency’s document “Introducing Compulsory Identity Cards for Foreign Nationals” published in March 2008, the Government estimates that just 10% of foreign nationals will be issued with an ID card by the end of 2009, and that it will take until 2014/15 before 90% of immigrants are covered by the scheme.
With the card only being issued to a minority of the population it is hard to see how the scheme will meet the Government’s objectives on tackling illegal immigration.
If you are an International Student worried about what to do next, remember that the scheme will initially only affect Student Visa holders applying for Further Leave to Remain using form FLR(S), or varying their leave.
Further announcements as the scheme rolls out will be brought to you by Immigration Matters.