Monday 14 Jan 2008 @ 09:15
First milestone met as fingerprint checks go global
The global rollout of fingerprint checks on all visa applicants is complete three months ahead of schedule, and millions under budget, the Government announced today.
In a wide ranging speech to Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) staff, the Immigration Minister Liam Byrne congratulated agency officials and set out a challenging 'deal for delivery' in 2008, to secure the largest shake up to Britain's border security and immigration system for 40 years. Anyone applying for a visa from 133 countries covering three quarters of the world's population now have their fingerprints checked against UK databases. Nearly 500 cases of identity swapping have been spotted already.
The minister also confirmed BIA exceeded the Prime Minister's target of removing or deporting more than 4,000 foreign national prisoners by the end of 2007 by 200 and went on to outline a day by day timetable for ten crucial milestones for new border protection over the next 12 months. Liam Byrne said:
"The public wants stronger borders. They want us to shut down the causes of illegal immigration and hold newcomers to account, deporting rule breakers where necessary. They also 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.
"My goal therefore in 2008 is as ambitious as it is urgent. There are four themes to our work: protection, prevention, accountability and compassion. By Christmas the system will look and feel different. Every month the public will be able to see us not talking about change but delivering on our ten point plan for change. The public is right to demand a new system. We have listened. And we will act."
The milestones set out by the Minister are:
* within 15 days to check fingerprints before a visa is issued anywhere in the world;
* within 60 days to introduce on the spot fines for employers who don't make the right right-to-work checks;
* within 80 days to begin the introduction of a new points system for managing migration;
* within 100 days to introduce a single border force and police-like powers for frontline staff;
* within 180 days to confirm the number of foreign national prisoners deported in 2008 will exceed 2007;
* within 200 days to activate powers to automatically deport foreign national prisoners;
* within 300 days to expand detention capacity;
* within 330 days to begin issuing compulsory ID cards for those foreign nationals who want to stay;
* by Christmas to begin counting foreign nationals in and out of the country and to introduce compulsory watch-list checks for high risk journeys before they land; and
* within 360 days to make and enforce 60 per cent asylum decisions within six months, with alternatives to detention for children. Biometric fingerprints have been taken from more than one million people, and so far 10,000 visa applicants have been identified who have previously been fingerprinted in the UK in connection with immigration cases or asylum applications.
In addition the Government is currently consulting on proposals to overhaul how marriage and short term visas are issued. 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.
Notes to editors
1. In 'Securing the UK Border' published in March 2007 the Government committed itself to looking at how it can modernise the system for those who visit the UK for tourism, business or to visit family, whilst ensuring the system is robust against abuse. 'Securing the UK Border' can be found at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/securing-the-border?view=Binary
2. The Prime Minister committed the Government to remove 4,000 foreign national prisoners in July 2007.
3. Biometrics lock visa applicants into an identity at the earliest possible point in their journey. On application for a visa, biometrics are checked against immigration databases to identify whether a prospective traveller has already been fingerprinted by the BIA, in what identity and for what reason. Similarly those arriving in the UK undocumented, or making applications for asylum, can be traced back to any previous visa application they might have made.
4. The following case studies show how biometrics have helped frontline staff detect people who have no right to come to, or remain, in the UK: Lebanon - An applicant applied for a visa with a Lebanese passport. His biometrics proved he had previously applied for and been refused asylum as a Palestinian national. His application was refused and he was unable to travel to the UK.
Zambia - The fingerprints from a Zambian national applying for a visa were discovered to match an asylum claimant in 2001 from a Sierra Leone national with a different identity. The applicant initially denied but later admitted his attempted deception. The application was refused and the applicant was stopped from travelling to the UK.
Finland - A Ugandan national, legally resident in Finland, applied for a visit visa. He said that this was his first application. Biometrics revealed the applicant had been fingerprinted previously when applying for a visa in a different identity in Kampala - and was refused. Further checks of his previous passport revealed a US refusal stamp. His application was refused and he was stopped from travelling to the UK.
Holland - A female citizen of Iraq submitted an application in one identity. A fingerprint match revealed that this applicant had applied for asylum in the UK in a different identity in November 2006. The application was refused and she was stopped from travelling to the UK.
Nigeria - A Nigerian visa applicant claimed he had not visited the UK before. A biometric check revealed he had been in the UK under a different identity, had been arrested for shoplifting and had completed an eight month prison sentence. At the conclusion of his sentence he was deported to Nigeria. His application for a six month visit visa was refused.
Spain - A female Peruvian, married to a British National, applied for a UK settlement visa in Spain. She said that she had not applied for a UK visa before, however a biometric check revealed a match to a male applicant for a visa in Madrid earlier in the year. When interviewed she said the male applicant was her brother but was unable to explain the fingerprint match. Further examination of travel documents revealed that she had made a previous application, which had been refused, using her brother's passport but replacing his photograph with hers. The second application was also refused.