28 Mar 2007 12:02 PM
Government to strengthen 'Off-shore' border

HOME OFFICE News Release (059/2007) issued by The Government News Network on 28 March 2007

More people will face checks before entering the UK to further tighten the UK's borders, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne announced today.

Through the introduction of a US-style visa waiver programme, the Government will create a strengthened border control to screen people it wants to enter the UK and to deny entry to those it does not, even before they get here. This border builds on the success of exporting cross channel border controls to France and Belgium, which has resulted in an 88 per cent fall in the number of clandestine entrants detected in Kent in 2006 compared to the same period in 2002.

'Securing the UK Border', published today, also sets out how the UK will overhaul visitor visas - including consulting on tougher sanctions for sponsors of family visas, consulting on requiring English for spouses as well as installing technology at UK ports to record biometrics of non-EEA citizens without visas.

The Minister also confirmed today that the Home Office will be setting up the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). Once up and running it will advise Ministers on where migration might sensibly fill gaps in the labour market.

Together our strategy creates a system of triple checks for foreign nationals:

1. By the end of 2008 half the countries in the world, covering three quarters of the world's population will all need biometric visas with their fingerprints checked against the UK Government database, before travelling to the UK;

2. From 2009 the majority of people will be counted in and out of the UK; and

3. ID Cards for foreign nationals to help ensure only those entitled gain access to work and benefits.

Today's strategy helps complete the reform programme announced by the Home Secretary last July, which has meant:

* Tougher checks abroad, before people come here;
* New powers for UK border control;
* Up to £100 million extra for in-country enforcement against illegal immigration; and
* Independent advice on where immigration makes sense for Britain

The government is also establishing a new Migration Impacts Forum (MIF), jointly chaired by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne and Communities Minister Phil Woolas. It will provide information on the wider impacts of migration on local communities and how best to ensure public services can respond and community cohesion retained.

Liam Byrne said:

"It is essential that we have a fair and effective migration system, trusted by the public as a whole and those who rely on it."

"The Migration Advisory Committee will help ensure this by telling us where Britain needs migration and where we don't. And tougher checks around the world mean we can stop people we don't want to come to Britain before they set off by plane, train or boat.

"The days when border control started at the white cliffs of Dover are over. Our immigration control needs to start well before people come anywhere near British shores.

"Secure borders help combat illegal immigration, false asylum claims and clandestine entrants by stopping those people from getting near the UK, yet make it easier for the almost 200 legitimate travellers per minute who cross our borders.

"Compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals will be a vital buttress of our defences giving businesses and public services the choice to check whether someone is who they say they are."

Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman said:

"This strategy sets the standard for a modern border, protecting security and economic interests to make travel and migration work best for Britain. Whilst promoting Britain as the destination of choice for legitimate travellers, we will focus increasingly sophisticated controls on the minority who seek to abuse our immigration system and subsequently cause us harm. "

'Securing the UK Border' also proposes:

* Biometric technology playing a greater role in securing our borders. By the end of 2007 frontline staff at all major ports will be able to check biometric data in travel documents against the passenger presenting the documents. Currently, visa applicants from 63 countries are required to provide fingerprint and facial biometrics. By 2008 all visa applicants will have to supply biometrics.

* Tightening marriage visas by increasing the minimum age of sponsors and the person sponsored to 21. This will ensure individuals have an opportunity to establish a degree of independent adult life, including taking advantage of higher education, and to have had the advantage of more opportunities to integrate. This will form part of a wider Government consultation on measures designed to help combat forced marriage. The introduction of an English language test before entry for spouses will ensure that everyone who comes here for a permanent reason has the skills to participate both socially and economically.

* A sponsored family visitor route that will mean people in the UK will be required to vouch for their family member at the beginning of the application process. This means they will become their 'sponsors' agreeing to maintain, accommodate and fund any of their non-emergency medical care. If the visitor breaks their visa rules, for instance by overstaying or illegally working, their sponsor in the UK could be held responsible, and could be subject to sanctions.

* Creating visitor categories for visa applications that relate the criteria directly to the purpose of the visit. Current immigration rules do not distinguish between the four main reasons for visiting the UK: tourism, business, study or visiting family. This streamlining will create a simpler, clearer and more relevant visa system with categories for tourist, business, student and sponsored family visitors.

* Tightening up on student visas by making it compulsory for all educational institutions to keep both enrolment and attendance records of overseas students. This information will then be passed onto the Immigration Services to take appropriate action.

* By June 2007 a Visitor Taskforce will be established so that we can work with partners across and beyond government to improve our customer service standards and the part we play in welcoming visitors to Britain. People from overseas spent £14.2bn in the UK in 2005, with the tourism industry alone directly employing 1.4m people. It is essential that Britain is simple to visit legally.

The Government has already had significant success in exporting and tightening Britain's border. Airline Liaison Officers are in place across the world to provide advice and training on UK travel documents. Their work has resulted in 150,000 people without proper documents being prevented from boarding aircrafts to the UK in the last five years alone. Juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium have contributed to a 70 per cent reduction in unfounded asylum applications for the whole of the UK. The e-Borders pilot, Project Semaphore, has already captured data on 21 million passenger movements and issued over 9,000 alerts to the border agencies.

By 2009 the Government will count the majority of passengers in and out of the UK. Border control agencies will be able to access information in advance of travel about the movements of passengers so resources can be targeted towards those who present a threat, while speeding up travel for those who do not.

Notes to Editors

1. The Borders and Visa strategy can be found on the Home Office website at: http://www.homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

2. The strategy builds on the publication of the Borders Action Plan published in December 2006 which can be found at: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/aboutus/bordersimmigrationactionplan.pdf

3. The consultation responses to the Migration Advisory Committee consultation, together with the terms of reference for the new body can be found at: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/lawandpolicy/consultationdocuments/closedconsultations

4 The Migration Advisory Committee will have a membership of independent experts, with expertise in the labour market and economy to provide Government with independent advice on where migration is needed, including the development and delivery of a shortage occupation list.

5. The Migration Impact Forum (MIF) will be jointly chaired by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne and Phil Woolas from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Ministers will announce separately details on composition and membership of this Forum

6. The MIF will provide stakeholder input to Government about the wider impacts of migration. It will look for information from forum members about the social benefits of migration and any transitional impacts, for example on local education or health services, which derive from migration.