As Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveils the new UK Identity Card this week, Immigration Matters examines what effect the multi billion pound scheme will have on preventing illegal employment.
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.
Tom Hadley, Director of External Relations of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said:
“Recruitment professionals in the front-line of the UK labour market play an increasingly pivotal role in checking the identity, background and status of individual job seekers.
“Within this context measures to simplify the checking requirements can be welcomed and must be backed with an extensive communication programme. Recruiters take their responsibilities to verify an individual’s right to work in the UK extremely seriously and support initiatives to enhance safe and ethical recruitment.”
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.”
Tim Cowen, Director of Communications for NCP Services, said:
“This is good news for employers, and a credit to the work the UKBA has done to help make the hiring of migrant workers more streamlined for UK organisations.
“Employers will, quite rightly, still need to make sure their systems for spotting forgeries are robust, but the biometric cards will cut down on fraud and make it easier for us to do this.
“Crucially, it will also help those who genuinely have the right to work in the UK get employment quickly – since it will be easier to check their identity and get them working.”
This week 48 Lambeth Council Traffic Wardens disappeared after contractor NCP services gave notice of immigration status checks.
The Conservatives oppose the UK‘s identity card scheme but say they support the use of biometric information in immigration documents.
“The Government are kidding themselves if they think ID cards for foreign nationals will protect against illegal immigration or terrorism – since they don’t apply to those coming here for less than three months,” said shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve.
Phil Booth, head of the national No2ID campaign group, attacked the roll-out of the cards as merely “softening-up exercise” on the rest of the UK population pointing out that ID cards will do little to prevent illegal immigration.
“The volume of foreign nationals involved is minuscule so it won’t do anything to tackle illegal immigration.”
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.
But the Home Office insist that the cards will make a difference and said that of the 2.8 million visa applicants who have been fingerprinted, 3,500 cases of identity swap cases have been dealt with.
For all the fanfare and spin, ID cards are unlikely to have any immediate impact on the estimated half a million illegal immigrants already in the UK, and will, by the Government’s own estimation, take at least five years before just 90% of immigrants are covered by the scheme.
Most illegal workers, including those found working inside the Home Office last year, have National Insurance numbers and various forms of visa stamps, most of which are incomprehensible to the average employer.
A few hours ago I was consulted by a Care Home Manager who has been unwittingly illegally employing a carer for over nine months. The African carer has a “Residence Permit” stamped in his passport, which to most people would imply that he has the right to reside in the UK. The problem is the visa stamp is linked to a previous Work Permit, which should have been cancelled by his old employer, and is, therefore, invalid.
Earlier this year the Government introduced fines of up to £10,000 per worker for businesses employing illegal staff. With ID cards only being carried by a minority of migrants, such as students applying for further leave and those on Marriage or Civil Partnership visas, the scheme will do little to help or protect employers.