Statewatch News online: UK to impose fingerprinting for visas from five African countries

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

UK to require biometric data for visas from five African countries
- visa applicants and those with 1951 Convention travel documents to be fingerprinted before departure

Following the example of the USA - who now require fingerprints and a photo for all non-EU visitors - the UK is to require all visa applicants from five east African countries (Dijibouti, Eriteria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda) to give their fingerprints and "individuals seeking to enter the UK using "1951 Convention travel documents". The Home Office says the "east African biometric visa initiative" is to counter "abuse".

The Home Office says that a six month project carried out in Sri Lanka had identified only seven undocumented asylum applicants and two other who have been prosecuted - it concludes "As a result of this success, the project in Sri Lanka will be extended".

On arrival in the UK all asylum-seekers are anyway fingerprinted and copies are sent to Eurodac. They are given a "high-tec card, containing a biometric chip" and under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Bill may be tagged or tracked.

See: UK plays asylum card to expand visa biometric scheme by John Lettice (The Register)

Home Office press release

Reference: 024/2004 - Date: 21 Jan 2004 11:27

Visitors to the UK from five east African countries and those travelling on refugee documents issued by other countries will have to provide fingerprint data before they enter the UK, the Home Office announced today.

This move is part of a Government action plan to tackle unfounded asylum claims from Somali nationals and fraudulent claims by individuals claiming to be Somalis. It also represents the next step in the Government’s phased roll-out of biometric technology to tackle immigration abuse. High-tech biometrics can help identify people who have entered the country legitimately then destroy their travel documents to claim asylum in a false identity, or make it more difficult to remove them if their asylum claim is refused.

From March:

- those applying for visas to come to the UK from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda will be required to provide a record of their fingerprints when applying for a visa. Evidence shows that a significant proportion of asylum seekers who claim to be from Somalia are in fact from other east African countries - a recent pilot language analysis exercise suggested that the number may be over 10 per cent of all ‘Somali’ claimants.

- individuals seeking to enter the UK using ‘1951 Convention travel documents’ will have their fingerprints recorded and their documents photocopied. Intelligence suggests that asylum claims are being made in the UK - often in false names - by those who already have refugee status in other countries.

Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, stated:

"The progressive roll-out of biometric technology is a powerful tool in tackling abuse of our asylum and immigration system. It will make it more and more difficult for people to hide their identity by destroying their documents after they have legally entered the UK.

"The move complements the Government’s radical programme of reform to tackle abuse of the asylum system.Legislation currently before Parliament will tackle the final parts of the system in need of reform.

"We know that a significant proportion of asylum seekers claiming to be Somali are actually from neighbouring east African countries. Together with the roll-out of specialist language analysis, recording the fingerprints of visa applicants from this region is part of a concerted Government strategy to cut fraudulent asylum applications from this region.

"We also believe that individuals are exploiting international refugee travel documents to claim asylum in the UK under a false identity. Ensuring we have a secure way of recording someone’s identity will close help this loophole.

"Dealing with those who are abusing the system is vital to build public trust and confidence in our immigration and asylum policies, so we can welcome those who have a legal right to be here."

The east African biometric visa initiative follows a successful pilot to record the fingerprints of those applying for visas from Sri Lanka. Since the initial six month project started in July 2003, it has led to the identification of seven undocumented asylum applicants who destroyed their passports after entering the UK, and a further two people have been prosecuted. As a result of this success, the project in Sri Lanka will be extended.

Biometric technology is already used successfully to combat abuse of the asylum system. All asylum seekers in the UK are fingerprinted and issued with a high-tech ID card containing a biometric chip. Asylum seekers’ fingerprints are now also recorded on "Eurodac", the EU-wide database, designed to combat asylum shopping.

The Government also announced today that it had signed an arrangement with the Sri Lankan Government, under which there will be a faster and more efficient system for issuing travel documents to Sri Lankan citizens who do not have the right to enter or remain in the UK. The arrangment will help return up to 100 people a month, and is the result of the co-operation from the Sri Lankan government on illegal immigration, which has contributed to a significant reduction in unfounded asylum claims from that country.

The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill which is currently before Parliament, seeks to help tackle organised immigration criminals, ensure that criminals do not gain from dishonesty and introduces a new speed and finality to the appeals and removals process. The Bill also contains enabling powers to introduce tagging or tracking to maintain better contact with those subject to immigration control.

Notes to Editors:

1.The Government’s strategy to increase the use of biometrics to tackle immigration abuse was set out in August 2003 (Home Office press notice 228/2003).

2.The biometric visa trial in Sri Lanka was announced in July 03 (Home Office press notice 196/2003).

3.The legislation to facilitate greater use of physical data (biometrics) is included in section 126 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

A Statutory Instrument allowing for the collection of fingerprints from these visa applicants and holders of 1951 Convention Travel Documents will be laid in the House of Commons today, 21 January 2004. The regulations are expected to come into force at the end of February. Visa applicants of all nationalities will be required to give fingerprints when submitting applications from March 2004 in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Asmara (Eritrea), Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti and Kampala (Uganda). We also propose to extend this to Nairobi (Kenya) in due course, regulations will be laid to allow this at a later date.

4.The most recent latest quarterly asylum statistics showed a 60 per cent increase in asylum applications from individuals claiming to be Somali, despite no significant change in the circumstances in the country. The Government believes that some of these claims have been made by people from other east African countries or from Somalis who have already been granted asylum elsewhere in Europe.

Published: 21 Jan 2004

Statewatch News online | Join Statewatch news e-mail list | Download a free sample issue of Statewatch bulletin

Statewatch does not have a corporate view, nor does it seek to create one, the views expressed are those of the author.
Statewatch is not responsible for the content of external websites and inclusion of a link does not constitute an endorsement.

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error