Alan Travis, The Guardian (Manchester), January 15, 2008
The introduction of compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals in Britain will take at least three years to complete, ministers are to confirm this month.
Despite repeated promises from ministers, including Gordon Brown, as recently as last week, that compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals will be introduced from this year, the Home Office is expected to confirm that their introduction is to be gradually phased in because that is “less risky” and will “minimise the burden on businesses”.
A small-scale pilot scheme, which is expected to involve 10,000 foreign nationals already living in London, is scheduled to begin in April for three months but those involved will not actually receive an ID card. Instead, a sticker will be inserted in their passport if their application to extend their stay is successful. The pilot scheme will be used to test the technology involved in the “biometric residence permits”, which will include an electronic record of the applicant’s fingerprints.
The implementation programme for foreigners’ ID cards is designed to cover all foreign nationals resident in the UK for more than three months who apply to renew their permission to stay.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, promised yesterday to start issuing ID cards to foreign nationals within 300 days—by November 2008. The first required to apply will be students and those married to British citizens or involved in civil partnerships or long-term relationships.
From April 2009 the categories will be extended to business people, children of settled parents, those on work permits and visitors. Refugees and people with the right to settle in Britain will issued with ID cards from April 2011. It is not likely to be compulsory to produce the foreign national ID card to apply for a job in public service until the scheme has been fully introduced.
A Home Office spokesman said yesterday that the timetable would be announced very soon and that numbers would increase rapidly once the pilot scheme had tested the technology.
The decision to phase in the £182m scheme gradually contrasts with the claims made yesterday by Byrne to have met the “milestone targets” on immigration reform ahead of schedule.
He said the introduction of electronic fingerprint checks of all visa applicants, from 133 countries, had been completed three months ahead of schedule and millions of pounds under budget.
Byrne set out a new series of immigration milestones including the introduction of spot fines for employers from March and a new points-based immigration system in April. But he also promised a “compassionate” system and said he hoped to find an alternative to the continued detention of children when their families face deportation before the end of the year.
Phil Booth, of the No2ID, campaign said many of the targets announced had already appeared in one form or another. “In fact, the statement reveals that the headline ‘ID cards for foreigners’ that the prime minister was promoting last week has been put back,” he said. “It will now only just begin in 2008—assuming the Border and Immigration Agency can keep to this new timetable.”
Home Office immigration reform timetable for 2008:
by 15 days: check fingerprints before a visa is issued anywhere in the world;
by 60 days: on the spot fines for employers of illegal workers;
by 80 days: introduce new points-based immigration system
by 100 days: introduce single border force
by 200 days: activate powers to automatically deport foreign prisoners
by 300 days: issue compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals
by Christmas: count foreign nationals in and out of the country