Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment)
Regulations 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Charles Walker 

Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con) 

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Burley, Mr Aidan (Cannock Chase) (Con) 

Burns, Conor (Bournemouth West) (Con) 

Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con) 

Campbell, Mr Ronnie (Blyth Valley) (Lab) 

Carmichael, Neil (Stroud) (Con) 

Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab) 

Corbyn, Jeremy (Islington North) (Lab) 

Crockart, Mike (Edinburgh West) (LD) 

Green, Damian (Minister for Immigration)  

McCrea, Dr William (South Antrim) (DUP) 

Mahmood, Shabana (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab) 

Rutley, David (Macclesfield) (Con) 

Singh, Mr Marsha (Bradford West) (Lab) 

Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab) 

Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) 

Wright, Jeremy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee 

Wednesday 10 November 2010  

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair] 

Draft Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

2.30 pm 

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment) Regulations 2010. 

This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I am sure that it will be a delight. Approval of the regulations will mean that the UK Border Agency can continue the roll-out of biometric resonance permits. The permits are useful in combating illegal immigration and abuse of the immigration system. By recording a foreign national’s fingerprints and photograph as part of their application, we can check them against our existing records before deciding whether to allow them to stay in the UK. This allows us quickly and confidently to confirm their details or identify those who try to conceal a poor immigration history, making for smarter immigration decisions. 

The process also means that we can link a person’s details to the application and establish a reliable link between the holder and the document that we give them to evidence their right to be here. This in turn makes it easier and more reliable for the UK Border Agency and employers and public service providers to confirm a foreign national’s immigration status and entitlements in the UK. Issuing the permits enables the UK to comply with European law, regulation EC 1030/2002, as amended by EC 380/2008. The legislation prescribed uniform residence permits with upgraded security features containing fingerprints and digital facial images to be issued to non-European economic area nationals staying in member states for more than six months by May 2012. Biometric residence permits enable us to meet our obligations under EU law and ensure we are not a weak link in Europe for immigration abuse. 

Under the UK Borders Act 2007, the Secretary of State has powers to make regulations that require foreign nationals subject to immigration control to apply for a biometric residence permit. This will be the fourth set of affirmative regulations rolling out the requirement to more categories of immigration applicant. Since the permits first rolled out on 25 November 2008, more than 300,000 have been issued. Most have been to students extending under tier 4 of the points-based system for migration and skilled workers under tier 2. The regulations incorporate more working migrants by rolling out biometric residence permits to those applying under tiers 1 and 5 of the points-based system. Tier 1 is for highly skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs and

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post-study work. Tier 5 covers certain types of sponsored temporary workers, whose entry helps satisfy cultural, charitable, religious or international objectives. 

With such volumes of biometric residence permits in circulation, those who are required to check them are increasingly familiar with them. Feedback tells us that they have been well received by migrants, employers and service providers as a secure and reliable way of confirming identity, immigration status, right to work and entitlement to access services while in the UK. We are committed to streamlining documents that establish right to work in the UK to help employers and business. We will also continue to review and improve document checking services to provide further reassurance about whether an individual can work legally in the UK. 

To complete the roll-out to all active tiers of the points-based system, we will now incorporate tiers 1 and 5. The first sub-tier in tier 1 is for the most highly skilled workers who are granted free access to the UK labour market so that they can look for work or self-employment opportunities. The entrepreneurs sub-tier is for those investing in the UK by setting up or taking over and being actively involved in the running of one or more businesses. The investors sector is for high net worth individuals making a substantial financial investment—at least £1 million—to the UK. The fourth sub-tier is for post-study work for the most able international graduates who have studied here, enhancing the UK’s overall offer to international students and providing a bridge to highly skilled or skilled work. 

We believe these documents are proving to be a useful tool in tackling illegal immigration and illegal working. We have a number of examples where they have identified illegal immigrants seeking to exploit the system. Employers have told us that they welcome the documents as a secure and reliable means of confirming right to work. To date, the roll-out has proceeded smoothly with the vast majority of successful applicants receiving their permits within a few days of being notified that their application was granted. Biometric enrolment provision has been expanded to meet customer need, with 11 Home Office biometric enrolment centres, where appointments can be secured online or over the telephone, and 17 Crown post offices offering enrolment where no appointment is necessary as a walk-in service is provided. 

We are satisfied that the scheme complies with UK legislation on human rights and discrimination. The Government are committed to using the 2007 Act to meet our EU legal obligations and will issue biometric residence permits to non-EU migrants who are here for more than six months. The 2007 Act specifically prevents regulations being made that would require holders to carry their biometric residence permits at all times. Therefore, no one should ever be stopped and asked to produce this document. 

Biometric information that has been collected must be destroyed if it is no longer likely to be of use for the specified functions, such as for the prevention or detection of an offence, or for functions under immigration legislation. Biometric residence permits provide legitimate migrants with convenient evidence of their immigration status and their right to work, and facilitate access to services. When we intend to introduce further categories of foreign nationals who are required to apply for biometric residence permits, we will return to Parliament to seek further approval. 

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I trust that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee will support the regulations. 

2.36 pm 

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I do not intend to detain the Committee for long, particularly as this measure is a continuation of the Labour Government’s policy. 

I have a number of questions for the Minister. As we have heard, the regulations continue the incremental roll-out of biometric residence permits to move us closer to complying with EU legislation, the deadline for which is May 2012. Are we on course to meet that deadline, and what is the time scale for the further measures that are needed to comply fully? What has been the reduction in illegal workers since the BRP system was introduced? What are the Government’s plans for rolling out the use of post offices for the purposes of enrolment? Is the Minister confident that the stated operational costs will not increase? What impact is the expected 25% cut to the UK Border Agency budget expected to have on the roll-out of the BRP system, and how will that impact be managed? Finally, does the Minister expect delays in the processing of BRPs, given those budget cuts? Does he think that such delays would impact negatively on the willingness of tier 1 migrants to come to the UK? 

2.37 pm 

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. 

The Minister rightly highlighted the problem of tier 1 visa holders who are not working in tier 1 occupations. Has he thought about using the process of people seeking further leave to stay in the UK as a checking point to assess whether they are working in a tier 1 capacity? 

2.38 pm 

Damian Green:  I am grateful for those questions, which raise important issues that we must address. 

On compliance with the EU target, we are on track to meet our obligations under EU law by May 2012 for all those who have been granted entry or leave to remain for more than six months. We are a long way through that process. As the hon. Lady has rightly said, the previous Government introduced the measures for tier 2, and we are rolling them out to tiers 1 and 5. Tier 3 is being suspended so nobody is coming in under that tier. 

The hon. Lady asked about coverage. I have a long list of those who are covered, but I will not detain the Committee unnecessarily. There is a comprehensive list of those who were added in March 2009 and January 2010, and of the categories that I have outlined today. 

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The hon. Lady asked about numbers. I can clarify that there are 300,000 permits in circulation at present and we expect the measure to add some 80,000 a year to that number. Clearly, however, the data are historical, so that figure will depend on the many imponderables, such as the state of the economy. 

The hon. Lady asked about the use of the Post Office. From summer 2011, we will examine possibilities of extending enrolment via the Post Office or another commercial partner. She will be aware of the welcome announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) about having a more creative use of post offices in future. It is that Department’s ambition to make the Post Office a “front office for Government”—I think that that is its phrase. We have obligations to ensure that we get the best deal for the taxpayer in procedures such as this, but we will use the Post Office as a commercial partner, and it will be one of those which will compete for this business. 

The hon. Lady asked about the possibility that the necessary public spending cuts will affect the system. I am happy to assure her that the investment in the underlying infrastructure is complete. As part of the general way in which we aim to implement more rigorous spending controls inside the Border Agency, we are attempting to concentrate cost as much as possible on Whitehall rather than on the frontline. In particular, we are determined to maintain necessary capital spending on those aspects of the system that provide us with greater efficiency, which will be the case in this instance. I foresee no reason why, therefore, that should cause any delays in roll-out. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about tier 1 and possible delays. The application process does not delay applications, but the biometric enrolment must take place before a case can be concluded, so that we can check the applicant against our existing databases and link the biographical details provided to their unique biometric identifiers. He also asked about the effect the measure might have on tier 1 in future. As he and the Committee will know, we are in the throes— following our consultation on the work-based routes and the implementation of the permanent limit from next April—of looking at all the responses, and an announcement will be made in the coming weeks. Tempting as it is to respond in detail to his question, I am sure that he will understand why I cannot do so now. I hope that I have addressed all the questions that have been raised. 

Question put and agreed to.  

2.43 pm 

Committee rose.