ID cards for foreigners under new immigration rules
David Byers and agencies
Times Online January 26, 2007
Foreigners from outside Europe who live in Britain will be forced to carry identity cards or face a 1,000 fine and deportation in an attempt to stamp out illegal immigration and organised crime, the Government announced today.
The Government's new Borders Bill will compel all foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who live in Britain to carry a “biometric immigration document” in a bid to clamp down on illegal immigration and crime, Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, revealed.
The move has led to criticism from civil rights campaigners – but the Government says it is vital to keep track of migration levels and stop people disappearing into a criminal underworld.
The new Bill also provides a 100million package of measures to boost border control.
These include the roll-out of a hi-tech computer system to every airport worldwide to check the fingerprints of everyone attempting to get a visa to enter the UK.
The database would be linked to the police national computer in the UK, meaning anyone with a criminal conviction, or anyone who had previously been deported from the UK, could not board their flight to re-enter Britain.
All foreign airports and ports with flights to the UK will contain such a database by January next year, with one third already having had it installed.
The Bill will also allow for immigration officers to be given the power of arrest for the first time, a new uniform, and the power to detain and prosecute suspected organisers of people-trafficking.
It will also make the deportation of some foreign prisoners automatic once their sentence ends – but prisoners will technically still be able to hold up the move by logging a claim to remain under the Human Rights Act.
Civil rights protesters immediately attacked the proposal for all UK residents who are not members of the EEA – which is all EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – to be forced to carry identity cards, containing their biometric data, with stiff penalties for those who fail to.
Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of NO2ID, which campaigns against the introduction of identity cards, described the move as “a devastating mistake,” while Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said the cards could prove “racially divisive” if they resulted in immigration spot-checks on Britain's streets.
But Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, defended the move, saying. “At the moment, there are up to 60 different documents which someone can show to prove their entitlement to be in Britain. That is much too complicated.”
He added that the Government intended to “increase the sanctions” for businesses which break the rules and employ people illegally.
But he added: “I think the very least I can do is make life easier for those businesses by giving them a failsafe, easy method to check whether people are here legally and whether they are who they say they are.”
The moves are a key part of the Home Office's attempts to get to grips with the asylum and immigration system after David Roberts, head of removals at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, last year told a House of Commons committee that he did not have the “faintest idea” how many illegal immigrants there were in the UK. Some have put the number at about 400,000.
Damian Green, the Conservative shadow immigration minister, said the Home Office in its current form was incapable of making the immigration system effective.
“This is the Government's sixth immigration Bill in 10 years. The previous five have not worked, so there is no reason to believe that John Reid's tough rhetoric will translate into effective action this time,” he said.
The Bill will be debated in the Commons for the first time on February 5.