Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

  The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is an independent, voluntary organisation working in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. Established in 1967, JCWI actively lobbies and campaigns for changes in law and practice and its mission is to eliminate discrimination in this sphere. We are responding to this inquiry because a primary application of the collection of biometric data and data-sharing is the immigration control, of non EEA migrants.


  Until recently the collection of biometric data has been restricted to pilot schemes applied to visa applicants from the so-called "high risk" countries a list comprising disproportionately poor countries from the global south such as Eritrea DRC, Sudan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Ghana. By the end of 2006 this had extended to 42 posts. Currently the commercial partnership enrolment of UK biometric visas is being carried out but by the end of 2007 it is expected it will be applied at 150 posts and the strategic plan for the National Identity Scheme and Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan, published December 2006 assure us that by the end of 2008 that the collection of biometric data abroad will be extended to cover all visa applicants intending to travel to the UK. This in effect means half the countries in the world or all the non-EEA countries. In addition by the end of 2008 biometric documents will be introduced for non-EEA foreign nationals already in the UK who reapply to stay here.

  It is anticipated that biometric data collection will be used not only to support the allocations of visas at overseas posts and immigration control at borders but will also be used to extend immigration control within the UK's borders. Biometric data and data sharing will be applied so as to mediate immigration control via access to public services. In the aforementioned strategic plan at paragraph 19 it is stated that ID cards will be used to facilitate access to many public services: "This will be the case throughout the country, as the Scheme is UK-wide. Application, enrolment and the storage of data in the NIR will be managed on a UK-wide basis, in much the same way as passport applications operate today. However, the devolved administrations will have responsibility for how the ID card is used to gain access to those public services which are their responsibility."

  This was reiterated in the Borders and Immigration enforcement strategy announced at the beginning of March 2007. Measures being introduced include a "watch list" of "illegal" migrants to alert government agencies if someone applies for services to which they are not entitled. For example there will be pilot schemes in three NHS trusts to be implemented by April 2008 using data from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to ensure non-eligible migrants pay for non-urgent health care where required to do so. Offering justification for this approach the Home Secretary John Reid said most people who came to the UK wanted to comply fully with immigration laws but those who did not should not enjoy the same benefits and privileges. "This new approach will make life in this country ever more uncomfortable and constrained for those who come here illegally," the Home Secretary said.


  We are concerned that the proposed collection, sharing and other uses of biometric data from disproportionate numbers of the non-EEA population before the mass of the UK national population is discriminatory and will conflict with the UK's obligations under national treaties and conventions.

  The Joint Committee on Human Rights has said it considers the implementation of a compulsory scheme for non-UK nationals before UK nationals raises questions of disproportionate interference with private life under ECHR Article 8, as well as of discrimination under Article 14, read in conjunction with Article 8. In addition:

    "Further discrimination issues may arise, under Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR as well as in relation to the UK's international human rights obligations of non-discrimination, in particular under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) where essential services such as healthcare became dependent on entry onto the Register, for certain groups."

  We believe that a culture of biometric data collection, sharing and checking of associated biometric documentation and registers, will inevitably result in, or amplify existing, discrimination against visible minorities in the UK. Research conducted in Europe has shown that that where such a culture of registering personal information and providing supporting documentation as proof of identity and lawful presence exists ethnic minorities are disproportionately checked. Adrian Beck and Kate Broadhurst: Policing the community: the impact of national identity cards in the European Union, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol 24, No 3, 413-431, July 1998).

  Legal opinion sought by JCWI concurs with that of the JCHR. In addition counsel advises that any power of public officials to demand identification including in relation to provision of public services, as mentioned by the national identity scheme strategic plan above at paragraph 19 will have a potential discriminatory impact not only on foreign nationals but also on ethnic minority British citizens who may be wrongly judged to be foreign nationals by officials. To deny health care or benefit because a foreign national does not have such documentation, without regard to his need, or to subject an ethnic minority British citizen to the type of enquiry contemplated in these clauses will most certainly fall foul of Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR.

  The Government has not acted ultra vires in restricting non-urgent healthcare to overseas visitors. Nevertheless additional opinion obtained by JCWI denial of non urgent health care may in specific circumstances give rise to human rights breaches associated with this denial under the ECHR, CEDAW and the UCRC. This suggests that the collection and sharing of biometric data by giving rise to disproportionate breaches of privacy and by association discrimination, against foreign nationals may compound other breaches of human rights. They further compound the problems of risks to racial equality and effective monitoring associated with the Department of Health's failure to carry out a Race Equality Impact Analysis of the restriction of health services on which both the JCHR and the CRE have expressed concern. It is our understanding that the DoH is shortly to be the subject of a formal investigation by the CRE for its alleged failure to carry out this and its other statutory duties as a public body under the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000. It is therefore of concern if the Home Office believes the operation of the policy can be delegated to the devolved operations without any direction as to the possible repercussions for race equality.

  In addition in the course of the debate about identity cards and biometric data collection and sharing, very little has been said by the Government about assessing the public acceptability and impact on the public and third sectors and their employees of having to check biometric documentation and information and deny services to those who have been living and working irregularly in the UK for many years and their children. The use, sharing and checking of biometric data to deny services so as to control immigration could also result in:

    —    individual employees code of professional ethics being violated;

    —    increasing administration duties for sectors which are already over-burdened;

    —    increasing destitution as services are denied with a resulting strain on third sector resources and advocacy;

    —    additional public health/acute services burden as people are discouraged from reporting health conditions in a timely way;

    —    increasing burden on public resources if the use and sharing of data results in increased detention and deportation;

    —    conflict in locations of public service provision such as hospitals; and

    —    conflict with implementation of progressive equality cultures by public sector and the third sector.

April 2007

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