More Countries Demand Biometrics

GLOBAL: More countries demand biometrics

University World News
Philip Fine
22 November 2009
Issue: 102

Canada has joined a growing number of nations now requiring foreigners wanting to study in their countries to provide their electronically obtained fingerprints along with their applications.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has been rolling out a biometric plan for students that will begin in 2011 and expects to have the new system fully in place by 2013. The CIC recently presented information on the biometric changes to a meeting of provinces and national associations of universities, colleges and language schools.

A CIC spokesperson said the department would consult with an advisory committee on international students and immigration in the spring of 2010. “Biometrics will significantly contribute to Canada's existing measures designed to reduce identity fraud and enhance the safety and security of Canadians,” the spokesman said.

When the current project is implemented, applicants requiring a temporary resident visa, study permit or work permit will be required to provide their digital fingerprints and have their photo taken in person before they arrive in Canada.

The move comes on the heels of this past summer's move by France to introduce fingerprinting in the visa application process. The US has had biometric requirements in place for the last five years.

The UK plans on having all visa applicants to be in its biometrics database for 2011, with Australia and New Zealand recently upping their applicant requirements and both expected to eventually join the growing number introducing biometrics at the application stage.

Meanwhile, Japan requires fingerprints for all visitors entering the country but not with visa applications.

For Canadian universities that met last week at the Canadian Bureau for International Education annual conference to discuss how to increase student enrolments, the move to biometrics is seen by many as a measure that will introduce more challenges to the system.

“This will probably delay the process,” said the University of Alberta's Cen Huang, Assistant Vice-president International.

Huang said she was concerned by the logistics of fingerprinting students, namely the difficulty it might cause those needing to get to a consulate. She was surprised to hear the government was asking for fingerprints, not at the entry stage but during the application period, and that some students could see it as another hassle or a sign of suspicion.

“The (government) should provide a system where those who apply to Canada feel welcome,” she said.

The government is confident the requests for biometrics will not result in loss of enrolments to other countries: “When other countries have introduced biometrics, they have not seen a significant drop in post-secondary enrolments,” said CIC spokesman Nicolas Fortier, adding that he did not expect universities to face additional costs because of the initiative.

In the UK, the biometric system will be fully functioning by April, 2011. Already students are being asked to provide the Home Office with their biometrics – fingerprints and a photograph – which will be checked against existing records, then stored on file and on the identity card's secure electronic chip.

Under the UK government's new points-based system, three-quarters of the points for a prospective student are awarded for confirmation of acceptance of study from an institution that has a licence from the UK immigration authorities to teach those who come to the UK to study. The other quarter is awarded for proving students have enough money for maintenance and living costs.

In France, the biometric rollout began in June, with a requirement for fingerprints and photo for all visa applicants at the time of application and arrival. The information is required for all students studying longer than three months and has to be given in person at a consulate or embassy.

The Australian Immigration Department announced last August that it was strengthening its checks on foreign students seeking visas to undertake courses in local education institutions. This followed evidence that agents and students were using false documentation, including the results of English tests and fake bank balances, to obtain study visas.

The department said it would tighten checks around “parts of the student visa case load in India, Mauritius, Nepal, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Pakistan”. The additional measures included more interviews to confirm the students' genuineness and to check financial capacity to live in Australia.

Earlier this month, Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans said the minimum amount a foreign student must prove they have to cover the first year's living expenses would be increased from A$12,000 to A$18,000 (US$11,150 to US$16,700) to better reflect the real costs of living in Australia.

All students applying for visas are subject to standard immigration checks, which include health, character and security. Students must also show they have “a genuine intention to enter Australia for the purpose of study” although the evidence required varies according to the level of immigration risk of the country. They must also meet certain financial, English language proficiency and other requirements including appropriate educational attainment for the course they want to undertake.

“The department routinely seeks further information to verify the evidence provided with visa applications,” an immigration spokesman said. “The precise checks to be undertaken will be determined on a case by case basis. This will include face to face or phone interviews for some.”

In New Zealand, prospective students must prove that they have been offered a student place at an education institution and that they have sufficient funds to cover their stay, at least NZ$10,000 (US$7,500) per year. Student visas can also be refused on character grounds, including criminal convictions, but police certificates are only required for people intending to stay more than two years.

Students planning to stay for more than 12 months do not have to give fingerprints but they do have to provide a medical and chest x-ray certificate. Most important, compulsory insurance policies have to meet minimum requirements and they form part of the country's Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students – a set of regulations with which all organisations enrolling international students must comply.

Despite the insurance requirement, New Zealand will still refuse student visas for people who have TB or are judged likely to need publicly funded health services during their stay. This includes women expecting to give birth during their stay in the country.

Concern about the cost of treating international students in public hospitals and unpaid bills at doctors' clinics prompted New Zealand's government in 2004 to make travel and medical insurance compulsory for international students. The decision created a boom in the number of students taking out policies and fierce competition among insurance firms to capture the business.

Meantime, the global biometric boom and the increase in student visa requirements seem to have started when the US Congress began drawing up more stringent visa processes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. All US visa-issuing offices abroad began fingerprinting visa applicants in 2004, with two fingerprints from each applicant in an electronic scanner, a process that takes from 30 seconds to two minutes. The US government has promised that careful safeguards are being used to ensure the data are not used or accessed improperly.

* With additional reporting by Diane Spencer, Jane Marshall, Geoff Maslen and John Gerritsen