UK Home Office plans biometric immigration document to control borders

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Through the UK Borders Bill published last week The United Kingdoms Home Office is aiming for stronger border security which is expected to help in the fight against illegal immigration and organized crime. It includes provisions for the use of strong information technology systems, "biometric immigration documents" and secure data-sharing at the heart of the plan.

The bill renames the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) to the Border and Immigration Agency. It aims to equip the Agency with a wide range of new systems and powers to deter, detect and deport those breaking the rules, and to ensure that those foreign nationals legally in the UK play their part in upholding the rules.

In its Borders Immigration and Identity Action Plan published in December 2006, the Home Office set out how biometrics and border control technology could continue to offer important benefits for the UK public.

The Government has already made significant changes in its immigration and asylum systems and is improving on UK border control. Annual asylum applications are at their lowest level since 1993, with the majority of initial decisions being made within eight weeks.

According to the Home Office, the introduction of airline liaison officers has prevented over 30,000 people from traveling to the UK in 2005, and 17,000 have been stopped from crossing the Channel illegally. Plans are in place for the introduction of a new "firm but fair" points-based system for managing migration into the UK.

Key changes

The Borders Bill builds on these changes with a package of measures that take forward Home Secretary John Reid's shake-up of the immigration system, which included doubling the enforcement budget by an extra £100 million, setting out a timetable for the introduction of new technology at the border, an international strategy to share information and build closer working relationships and the introduction and exchange of biometric identification for non-EEA foreign nationals living in Britain.

The key measures in the Bill will provide immigration officers with greater powers, ensure that foreign national prisoners face automatic deportation and tackle illegal working and fraud.

The new powers for Immigration Officers will include the ability to:

• arrest people smugglers or traffickers even if their crimes were committed outside of the UK

• detain at ports individuals they suspect of having committed a crime, or those with a warrant outstanding against them

• arrest those they believe to have fraudulently been acquiring asylum-support, and to exercise associated powers of entry, search and seizure, and

• to access Her Majesty's Revenue Customs (HMRC) data to track down illegal immigrants

Foreign nationals benefiting from living in the UK will face additional obligations, including:

• having to apply for a "biometric immigration document," which will be a compulsory biometric ID for those living in the UK from outside of the EEA and

• failure to obtain a biometric ID will put the person at risk of losing their leave to remain in the UK and/or a civil penalty of up to £1,000

Under the new legislation foreign national prisoners will:

• face automatic deportation if they have committed a serious offence, such as crimes against children, terrorism or drug offences, and having been sentenced to imprisonment or any other offences which resulted in a custodial sentence of 12 months or more and

• no longer have the right to appeal from within the UK, except under very specific circumstances

What was promised, what will be

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "The UK Borders Bill will give immigration officers vital new powers to do their job better, to secure our borders, tackle the traffickers and shut down illegal working. It will build on existing legislation and commitments made by John Reid last summer to overhaul our immigration system.

"We estimate that a significant proportion of illegal immigration is in the hands of organized crime - the measures announced today will help disrupt those networks and ensure the UK becomes a more hostile environment for those abusing our laws.

"In the last six months I have met hundreds of front line staff and these are the measures they say they need. They don't stand alone. They are part of a radical shake-up of immigration, which includes £100 million extra for enforcement, new technology to count people in and out of Britain and new biometric ID cards for foreign nationals."

In announcing these measures, the Home Office asserts that it is delivering on promises made by the Home Secretary John Reid in his review of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). From 01 April, it will become the new Border and Immigration Agency, with the changes coming as immigration officers across Britain begin trials of their new uniform.

The UK Borders Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 05 February.

Under new procedures, members of the public will now be able to submit evidence to Parliament on some new bills. The UK Borders Bill will be committed to a Public Bill Committee for consideration.

Public Bill Committees can receive written submissions from outside organizations and individuals regarding the substance of the Bill. Submissions sent to the Department will not be accepted as evidence. Submissions should ideally be sent by the time of the Bill's Second Reading in order to inform the Committee's proceedings, including any oral evidence sessions it decides to hold. Submissions should be sent to the House of Commons Scrutiny Unit, which can also give advice in submitting evidence.

In the IND Review, the Home Secretary announced that the Directorate would become an agency - working as a shadow agency from April 2007 under the new title of the Border and Immigration Agency.


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