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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 15:42 GMT
Border controls shake-up set out
Digital finger scan
Fingerprints are taken digitally and checked against a UK database

All visitors to Britain requiring a visa are now having their fingerprints taken in a bid to control illegal immigration, the Home Office has said.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said the new system, completed three months ahead of schedule, has already spotted 500 cases of identity swapping.

In a wide-ranging speech, he outlined 10 key changes to the UK's border controls to be implemented in 2008.

They provide a "compassionate" way of getting "stronger borders", he said.

Cost savings

Under the new rules, anyone applying for a visa must submit to a digital finger scan - the 21st century equivalent of the old ink fingerprints - and a full-face digital photograph.

BORDER CONTROLS ACTION PLAN
Check fingerprints before a visa is issued. To be brought in within 15 days
Spot fines for employers who do not make right-to-work checks, within 60 days
Introduce a new points system for managing migration, within 80 days
Introduce a single border force and police-like powers for frontline staff, within 100 days
Confirm number of foreign national prisoners deported in 2008 exceeds 2007, within 180 days
Activate powers to automatically deport foreign national prisoners, within 200 days
Expand detention capacity within 300 days
Begin issuing compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals who want to stay, within 300 days
Count foreign nationals in and out of the country by Christmas
Within 360 days to make and enforce 60% asylum decisions within six months

It will apply to 133 countries, which account for three quarters of the world's population, and involve fingerprints being checked against UK databases.

The rollout of the system was due to be completed by April, but Mr Byrne said it had been finished three months early and several million pounds under budget.

"The public wants stronger borders," he said. "They want us to shut down the causes of illegal immigration and hold newcomers to account, deporting rule breakers where necessary.

"They want a compassionate system, which makes and enforces decisions fast when we have obligations to honour - and lets those we need contribute to Britain as long as they speak English, pay tax and obey the law."

One million people have given their biometric fingerprints so far. Of those 10,000 visa applicants were shown to have been fingerprinted in the UK before, in connection with immigration cases or asylum applications.

Among other measures in the 10-point plans are fines of up to 10,000 for employers who negligently hire illegal immigrants. Bosses could also face up to two years in prison.

'A bit rich'

Shadow home secretary David Davis welcomed the introduction of biometric visas - but said without a "dedicated UK border police force" borders would remain vulnerable.

On the fines for employers, he added: "It is a bit rich for the government to criticise businesses when the Home Office itself enjoys Crown immunity from prosecution in this area and has on several occasions been caught employing illegal immigrants."

Mr Byrne's milestones have taken a scenic detour around these inconvenient facts
Nigel Farage
UKIP leader

Ministers are also consulting on plans to overhaul how marriage and short term visas are issued.

And Mr Byrne said the plan is to increase the number of foreign prisoners being deported from the record 4,200 non-British criminals removed from the UK after serving their sentences in 2007.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the government were "getting tougher" on immigration - but said as the new controls would not apply to EU citizens, millions of people still had the right to come to Britain and use its public services.

"Mr Byrne's milestones have taken a scenic detour around these inconvenient facts," he said.

"In reality, all they have done, and all the Tories are proposing to do, is make it harder for non-whites to come into Britain."

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of the campaign group against ID cards, NO2ID, accused the government of introducing "panic" measures.

"The Home Office claims that fingerprints are a 'crucial weapon', but they can only point to a few thousand possibly dodgy visa applications to justify spending billions on the scheme," he said.

SEE ALSO
4,000 foreign prisoners deported
26 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Fingerprinting snares visa cheats
08 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
Firms point to biometric future
26 Oct 06 |  Technology
Clarke unveils immigration plan
07 Feb 05 |  UK Politics

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