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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Marshall
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clegg, Mr. Nick (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Hillier, Meg (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Laxton, Mr. Bob (Derby, North) (Lab)
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab):
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Mercer, Patrick (Newark) (Con)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Mrs. Commander, Mr. Whatley, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

First Standing Committeeon Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 7 June 2006

[Mr. David Marshall in the Chair]

Draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2006

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2006.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Marshall, to serve on this Committee under your guidance.
The regulations enable an authorised person—in practice, an entry clearance or immigration officer—to require any person who applies for entry clearance to provide a record of his or her fingerprints and a photograph of his or her face. The regulations also enable an authorised person to require any person in possession of a 1951 refugee convention travel document who seeks leave to enter the United Kingdom to provide a record of his or her fingerprints and a photograph of his or her face.
The regulations are made under section 126 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Section 126 provides that the Secretary of State may, by regulations, require an immigration application to be accompanied by specified information about the external characteristics of the applicant, or enable an authorised person to require an applicant to provide such information. The power conferred by section 126 has previously been exercised to make the Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2003, which have since been amended three times. The 2003 regulations require an application for entry clearance made in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda or Vietnam to be accompanied by a record of the applicant’s fingerprints. A person seeking leave to enter the UK who presents a 1951 refugee convention travel document issued by a country other than the UK is also required to provide fingerprints.
Results from the entry clearance posts are encouraging. The operations have proved to be an effective and successful way of tackling abuse of the immigration system, and are an integral part of the Government’s policy of further securing our borders. Through the collection of biometrics at posts overseas, we have been able to identify visa applicants who have sought to conceal an adverse immigration history, including previous asylum applicants. In the UK, we have been able to identify asylum applicants who sought to conceal their identity to frustrate the proper consideration of their claim.
The Government are committed to collecting biometric information from visa applicants in all countries by 2008. Building on the success of the current operations, we now seek the ability to manage the roll-out of biometrics in a sensible and flexible manner. The order in which entry clearance posts are to be equipped with the necessary fingerprinting and digital photography technology is being determined according to immigration, asylum and counter-terrorist priorities.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister will be aware that similar photography and fingerprinting requirements have been initiated in the United States as of the beginning of this year and have been adopted in all its main airports. Can we assume from what the Minister said that London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow will be equipped with such facilities henceforth?
Joan Ryan: The issue that we are discussing today is people applying out of country for a visa or entry clearance to come to the UK. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that all British passports issued as of August this year will contain a biometric. That is intended to maintain the integrity of our passports but also to meet the requirements of the United States.
Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that issue. Is she saying that the regulations do not mean that we will have the same system as in the US, whereby foreign nationals are fingerprinted and photographed so that we have a record of them when they enter and re-enter the United Kingdom? Or will there be other regulations?
Joan Ryan: The regulations are about foreign nationals from countries for which we have a visa requirement being fingerprinted before they enter the country. Therefore, the record will be in the database, should they attempt to re-enter after their visas expire when they leave.
Michael Fabricant: Good.
Joan Ryan: I am pleased to have been able to explain that to the hon. Gentleman.
We have taken into account local security concerns and the ability of individual posts to adapt to the processes required. We also intend to adopt a regional approach to avoid any displacement of fraudulent visa applicants to non-biometric posts in neighbouring countries.
Under regulation 6 an applicant who is required by an authorised person to provide his fingerprints or photograph may be required to submit to a specified process for his fingerprints and photograph to be taken. To make enrolment more accessible to applicants, the regulations provide for three different processes. The security and integrity of the process will be paramount in all circumstances.
An applicant may be required to attend a British diplomatic or consular post, where fingerprints and photograph will be taken. Where the UK has limited or no consular representation in a country, an applicant may be required to attend the consular post of another state. The applicant’s fingerprints and photograph will then be taken by an official of that state on behalf of the authorised person, and transmitted securely to a UK post for processing with the rest of his visa application.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): One of the aspects of the existing legislation is that the information can be given to a third or fourth person within Government or outside. I understand that permission for that can be given by the Secretary of State under special and specified purposes that do not relate to immigration. However, the provision states clearly that the data must be destroyed within 10 years. Does anything in this statutory instrument fulfil that regulation and that commitment?
Joan Ryan: Those are important points, and I am coming to them They are integral to the regulations and, as the hon. Gentleman said, to the previous regulations that these are to replace. We are developing with our EU partners a model for working with states in which we do not have a mission. Where the volume of applicants, geographical or other concerns make enrolment in a consular post impractical, and would adversely affect our service to applicants, enrolment may take place at other premises nominated by an authorised person, where visa applicants’ fingerprints and photographs will be taken on behalf of an authorised person. The other premises may be the offices of a commercial partner, and that will be for the purely administrative function of collecting the applicants’ information.
We will put in place technology that will prevent commercial partners from accessing, retaining or reusing copies of fingerprints or photographs, and we shall ensure that the data is protected and processed lawfully. It is also worth noting that UKvisas has used commercial partners to collect biographic data from visa applicants since 2002 and has seen significant improvements in its performance as a result.
Michael Fabricant: The Minister is being very kind in giving way. I very much support the regulations, but I wonder to what extent it is future proofed. The Minister talks about photographs and fingerprinting. However, in the future we might use corneal recognition and other types of biometric recognition that we do not know about at the moment. Would that require more regulations, or is there provision in these regulations for other criteria to be used in future within the same framework as the photograph and fingerprinting?
Joan Ryan: There are no plans at the moment to go beyond the biometrics of face and fingerprint. However, we remain open minded about that. Going by his question, the hon. Gentleman knows that we already have projects such as Project IRIS up and running. For the future, we are considering the three biometrics of facial image, fingerprints and the iris for the national identity register. Yes, further regulations would be required.
Should an entry clearance applicant not provide a record of his fingerprints or a photograph of his face in accordance with a requirement imposed under these regulations, his application may be treated as invalid. That would not attract a right of appeal. We recognise that there will have to be exceptions for applicants who, because of physical disability or injury, cannot provide a record of their fingerprints. Such applicants would still be required to enrol a digital photograph, and the absence of fingerprint data would be recorded with their applications. Those important decisions will always be made by visa officers and will not be delegated to commercial or other partners.
Furthermore, as certain categories of people are exempt from immigration control, as determined by section 8 of the Immigration Act 1971, we will not collect biometric data from them. We also propose to continue to fingerprint holders of all 1951 convention travel documents issued outside the UK when such people apply for leave to enter this country.
There is evidence to suggest that individuals who have been granted refugee status elsewhere are making asylum applications after arriving in the UK by destroying the documents on which they have travelled. Continuing to fingerprint such people on arrival allows us to identify the basis on which they entered the UK if they subsequently claim asylum. If such an applicant for leave to enter does not comply with the requirement imposed under these regulations, his application may be refused and he will then have the right of appeal against that refusal.
It is important to be clear about how the biometric data will be handled and for what purposes it will be used. Records will be transmitted over a secure network and stored on the immigration and asylum fingerprint system database. The data will then be checked against the existing data on that database and a result returned in real time to assist the entry clearance officer in his decision.
The retention of the data for future verification will enable the identification of any visa applicant who subsequently makes an application for either asylum or immigration in a different identity. That in turn will help to establish the nationalities of those who no longer have a basis on which to remain in the UK, and so assist with securing their removal.
I would also like to make it clear that the regulations make provision equivalent to that in the 2003 regulations to ensure that photographs and records of fingerprints are destroyed after 10 years at the latest or as soon as reasonably practicable if the applicant shows that he is a British or Commonwealth citizen with a right of abode. It is also important to say that the regulations include safeguards equivalent to those in the 2003 regulations for the taking of fingerprints and photographs of those under the age of 16. In common with other fingerprints collected in respect of immigration and asylum applications, the data will be shared with the police and other law enforcement agencies. I think that that covers the points made by the hon. Member for Lichfield.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): For the record, can the Minister assure me that the security service is one of those agencies?
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Prepared 8 June 2006