Home Office Press release
New plans will strengthen immigration controls
19 December 2006

Two new plans announced this week will improve national security and tighten border controls.

The Home Office is considering compelling foreign nationals in the UK to register their biometric data as part of a new strategic action plan to improve national security and strengthen immigration and border controls.

The announcement came as two strategic action plans were made public - one on the issue of national identity and the other on tightening borders and improving immigration controls.

Combined, the National Identity Plan and the Border Controls Plan give a good picture of how the government is likely to use technology to crack down on illegal immigration in the future.

The first step

The National Identity Plan calls for introducing biometric registration for foreign nationals on a rolling basis starting in 2008, first targeting those for whom identification is most important - such as immigrant workers seeking to renew their visas in order to stay in the UK.

Later the scheme would be rolled out to other immigrants, and eventually to all residents of the UK.

Improving border security

The research done for the plans shows that matching fingerprint data with those trying to enter the country is extremely effective at identifying those attempting to sneak in illegally.

Between January and May 2006, police and border control officials using mobile fingerprint equipment made more than 600 arrests of people on warning lists attempting to travel on high-risk routes, and more than 1,500 people who had previously claimed asylum or been fingerprinted for immigration purposes were identified trying to return to the UK illegally

So far, more than 51,000 people have voluntarily enrolled in the secure biometric immigration scheme, known as 'Iris' - far exceeding the expected 40,000 participants. And nearly 4 million facial biometric British passports have already been issued.

Biometric identification visas are now being issued at 42 posts abroad. By 2007, they will be issued at 150 offices around the world.

Safe and effective technology

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said the plans showed that the government can use technology safely and effectively to improve public safety and keep the borders strong.

'We're determined that Britain won't be a soft touch for illegal immigration,' Mr Byrne said. 'Compulsory biometric identity for foreign nationals will help us secure our borders, shut down access to illegal jobs, and fight foreign criminals.'

Already, he added, the technology that has been trialled has made an impact on border security. Once the technology is fully in place, he said, it will 'help trusted travellers pass securely through our borders and cut down abuse of the asylum system.'

In addition, the plans show that the national identity scheme will:

prevent identity fraud (which currently costs the UK economy more than £1.7 billion each year)
help in the fight against crime and terrorism (making it harder for criminals to establish false identities)
prevent benefits fraud (by ensuring that those collecting benefits only do so once, and for their own personal benefits)
stop high-risk travellers from coming to the UK
prevent those already here illegally from working
make it easier to detect, detain and deport those who violate immigration laws

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