Immigration Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Parental Passport Campaign (IB 07)

I am writing to you as the founder of the Parental Passport Campaign, a non-profit organisation aimed at changing how modern families travel. Having read through the Immigration Bill and related documents, I have some concerns and comments that I would like to submit for consideration by the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Immigration Bill.

Points for concern/revision in the Immigration Bill 

· The Parental Passport Campaign was set up with the aim of giving parents the option to list on their child’s passport the names of parents and/or legal guardians for travel purposes. We are still pursuing this objective, and believe that the increasing amount of time that these new border checks would take for border staff (both for UK nationals and for migrants) will continue to impact on the Border Force’s work, work which is key to the successful implementation of this Bill. These concerns relate to this Immigration Bill because the Bill outlines a number of new checks and controls that would be implemented with the assistance of UK Border Control, such as more extensive border checks, collecting and checking fingerprints, implementing embarkation controls, and examining the status and credibility of migrants seeking civil partnerships or marriage in the UK.

· With these aims in mind, my first concerns relate to the evidence requested and held on minors with applications to enter the UK. Whilst current regulations on biometric and physical data contained within the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (definitions which are reasserted in this Bill) state that information can be requested on ‘external physical characteristics’, (Part 6, Section 126), there are no requirements for parentage or guardianship to be officially recorded on immigration documentation. As well the reliance on physical characteristics increasing the risks of racial profiling at UK Border Controls, this will also mean increasing delays and difficulties for those passing through UK borders, as the Government continues to request increasingly stringent UK border checks.

· It should also be made clear under the Bill’s clause (Part 1 Section 8), ‘Meaning of "biometric information"’ (3) (1B) (b), where it states that biometric information ‘must not specify information about a person’s DNA’, that this relates to physical DNA, and not to genetic information regarding parentage. These are of course already supplied when providing birth certificates with the application and are therefore potentially already breaching this clause. This may necessitate an additional clause to be added to Part 1, Section 10, ‘Use and retention of biometric information’ (1) (2), that biometric information may be retained if used in connection with;

‘c) the exercise of a function in relation to parentage or guardianship, for the purposes of ascertaining adults legally entitled to travel with a minor’

Justification for the amendments

· ADMINISTRATIVE BURDENS- It would significantly reduce the current administrative burdens on UK Border Force staff, to officially record the legal parents and/or guardians of minors for travel purposes, both for asylum/immigration applicants and (to ensure consistency) also for UK citizens when applying for child passports. Given that documents asserting parentage (such as birth certificates) already have to be supplied when applying for passports or extended UK entry, it seems counter-productive not to record this information officially on the entry/visa document, as it creates duplicate work for Border Staff, delays and confusion, and distress to families.

Many unconventionally-structured families are now required to bring copies of birth certificates and other sensitive documents proving their status as a parent or legal guardian for each of their children every time they travel, and on each occasion these documents take large amounts of time for UK Border Force staff to assess and take decisions on. In addition, an increasing number of these ‘unconventional’ modern families, where parents may be cohabiting, divorced, or remarried, are putting increasing and undue pressure on Border Staff to ascertain at the point of travel those legally permitted to accompany minors. This is even more difficult for migrant cases because no historical information about applicants- such as birth certificates or residential information- is held or accessible on UK databases.

· RACIAL PROFILING- Another resulting problem is the serious risk of racial profiling, not just for immigrants but for UK citizens as well. In a world that is becoming increasingly socially mobile, officially recording only external physical characteristics on an entry document or passport, and neglecting to also record official guardianship, poses a serious risk of racial profiling for parents with mixed race children, who may be unduly questioned or delayed at the border for not bearing a physical resemblance to their own child. At the same time, accompanying adults who bear a physical or racial resemblance to a child should not automatically be assumed to be the child’s legal guardians or parents. Correct information on immigration and passport documents would allow modern families to enter and exit Britain with less hassle and more security. Making these small changes would also help reduce the risk of accusations of racial profiling being levied against UK Border Force staff.

· SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN- Although Border Staff are instructed to undertake additional questioning in cases where they are unsure, it would be a simpler and more secure way of safeguarding the passage of children across borders to ensure that their parents or legal guardians are officially listed on immigration documents, particularly given recently reported rises in human trafficking to the UK. This would ensure that when asylum and/or entry rights are granted to families, all children are in the care of their parents or official legal guardians.

This is not only important in helping to prove that all minors entering the UK are in the care of their correct legal guardians (a widely-acknowledged difficulty for Border Staff with regards to child trafficking and smuggling), but would also ensure that correct records are held on all migrant family members in the UK and enable a smoother process for Border Staff. It is of course only natural that some additional checks would be carried out in person at Border Security, but would help to add an additional protective layer and to streamline the process.

Some key facts and figures

The Parental Passport Campaign commissioned research, conducted by YouGov, to find out exactly how many parents were experiencing delays and hassle at border security simply because they didn’t share a surname with one of their children. The results suggest over 600,000 parents were affected in the last five years. This is just for UK families. Factoring in additional checks and delays for migrants and asylum seekers, it is clear that without this simple additional information being added to travel documents, Border Force agents will not only be increasingly burdened with administrative checks, but the potential to miss crucial cases of child trafficking and related crimes (such as forced child marriages overseas) only increases.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

October 2013

Prepared 6th November 2013