Page last updated at 20:38 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 21:38 UK

Foreign national ID card unveiled

id card explainer
Anti-forgery measures include colour changes when tilted, embedded ultra-violet design and other features visible only from certain angles

The first identity cards from the government's controversial national scheme have been unveiled.

The biometric card will be issued from November, initially to non-EU students and marriage visa holders.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the cards would allow people to "easily and securely prove their identity".

Critics say the roll-out to some immigrants is a "softening up" exercise for the introduction of identity cards for everyone.

The card will also include information on holders' immigration status.

"We want to be able to prevent those here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain," she said.

Employers and colleges want to be confident people are who they say they are, she said, and immigration and police officers want to verify identity and detect abuse.

"We all want to see our borders more secure, and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled. ID cards for foreign nationals, in locking people to one identity, will deliver in all these areas," she added.

The UK Border Agency will begin issuing the biometric cards to the two categories of foreign nationals who officials say are most at risk of abusing immigration rules - students and those on a marriage or civil partnership visa.

How an identity card will work

Both types of migrants will be told they must have the new card when they ask to extend their stay in the country.

The cards partly replace a paper-based system of immigration stamps - but will now include the individual's name and picture, their nationality, immigration status and two fingerprints.

Immigration officials will store the details centrally and, in time, they are expected to be merged into the proposed national identity register.

The card cannot be issued to people from most parts of Europe because they have the right to move freely in and out of the UK.

The Conservatives oppose the UK's identity card scheme but say they support the use of biometric information in immigration documents.

Students and marriage applicants first
Others to follow over coming decade
50,000 cards by next April
Costs £311m to 2018
Visa charges to cover costs

"The Government are kidding themselves if they think ID cards for foreign nationals will protect against illegal immigration or terrorism - since they don't apply to those coming here for less than three months," said shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve.

Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Chris Huhne said identity cards "remained a grotesque intrusion on the liberty of the British people" and the scheme "will prove to be a laminated Poll Tax".

"The government is using vulnerable members of our society, like foreign nationals who do not have the vote, as guinea pigs for a deeply unpopular and unworkable policy," he said.

SNP Home Affairs spokesman Pete Wishart MP said his party had opposed ID cards from the outset but the government's "abysmal record on data protection" was reason enough to cancel them.

He said the government looked "absurd" for pushing ahead with such a costly project.

The Home Office is trying to salami slice the population to get this scheme going in any way they can
Phil Booth, No2ID

"These cards will not make our communities more secure, they will not reduce the terrorist threat and they will not make public services more efficient," said Mr Wishart.

Phil Booth, head of the national No2ID campaign group, attacked the roll-out of the cards as a "softening-up exercise".

"The Home Office is trying to salami slice the population to get this scheme going in any way they can," Mr Booth told the BBC.

"Once they get some people to take the card it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"The volume of foreign nationals involved is minuscule so it won't do anything to tackle illegal immigration."

But Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK said the cards should be supported.

"We welcome the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals as part of wider measures to tackle illegal immigration," he said. "These reforms are essential if we are to restore order to our immigration system as the public certainly wish to see."

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