Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence


VISAS AND RESIDENCE PERMITS: UNIFORM FORMAT (13044/03)

Letter from Caroline Flint MP, to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 10 December, in which the Committee asks for further information about the United Kingdom's ongoing biometric initiatives, and for clarification about what procedures will be implemented for photographing Muslim women with veils for the purposes of uniform visas and residence permits.

  Ongoing initiatives in the area of biometrics being developed in relation to border control issues include:

    —  Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System (IAFS). The introduction of an automated system has allowed the fast identification of attempts to make multiple applications, often in different identities. The Application Registration Card (ARC) with the inclusion of biometrics (fingerprints) secures the single registered identity and prevents others using it to improperly claim NASS benefits. There are also links with the EURODAC system to determine if the person has made a previous application in another EU country and to NAFIS, the national police system through the Police/Immigration Fingerprint Exchange (PIFE);

    —  Visa Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System (VIAFS). This is a pilot to capture the fingerprints of visa applicants in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Data is transmitted back to the UK for entry into the IAFS database and use in immigration and asylum cases where identity is in dispute. The pilot is due to be expanded into six East African countries next year;

    —  Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS). This is a project to implement an automated border entry system using iris recognition technology as part of the immigration control at selected UK airports. Implementation of IRIS follows a successful trial with frequent travellers conducted at Heathrow Terminals 3 and 4 in 2002;

    —  Biometric Passport: the UK Passport Service and FCO have a joint project underway for the introduction during 2005 of a UK passport containing a facial image biometric in a contactless chip in line with current and emerging International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) specifications. The key drivers for the project are UKPS/FCO strategy to reduce passport fraud and recent US legislation requiring participating countries in the visa waiver scheme, such as the UK, to start producing passports with a biometric identifier by October 2004. UKPS will be adopting the ICAO standard for facial recognition derived from passport photographs. The UKPS will subsequently launch a passport card also holding biometric information;

    —  Biometric trial: UKPS is conducting a six-month trial of the enrolment process for iris, fingerprint and facial recognition biometrics for use in identity verification. This will involve 10,000 members of the public and its primary focus is on evaluating the application process in practice and assessing public reaction and concerns. The trial will therefore further support UKPS (and IND and DVLA) work on improving identity verification in line with ICAO standards for biometrics. Results from the trial will help inform the Government's plans to introduce biometric passports and driving licences, and build a base for the national identity cards scheme. UKPS signed a contract with Schlumberger Sema on 27 November 2003 to deliver the six-month biometric enrolment pilot, to be carried out from January to June 2004;

    —  Identity Cards: the UK has announced plans to implement an identity card which will incorporate a biometric. The passport card and possibly the photocard driving licence will form part of a family of identity cards to be introduced under the National Identity Card Scheme. Subject to legislation, the Government expects that new style passport identity cards will become available to all those applying for new and replacement passports from around 2007-8 onwards.

  The Committee also asks for clarification of what procedure will be adopted for obtaining images of Muslim women who wear a veil. Neither the technical specification nor the detail of implementation has been finalised. I outlined in my letter of 26 November the current procedures in place for obtaining photographs for Application Registration Cards (ARC) for asylum applications. Muslim women who present themselves at port for asylum applications accompany a female official to a separate room or private area. Once there, they unveil for identity verification in the presence of a female official for the period during which their image is captured. This, in practice, has presented no apparent problems and I would once again stress that I expect the same cultural sensitivity to be applied to the process adopted for the EU proposal.

  I hope this answers your questions and we shall inform the Committee as soon as the Government has decided whether or not to opt into the Regulations.

5 January 2004

Letter from Caroline Flint MP to the Chairman

  Further to my letter of 26 November regarding the above proposals, I should like to confirm that the Government has decided to opt into these measures. This is in line with our policy to participate in immigration measures to the maximum extent possible where they are without prejudice to our frontier controls.

  The proposals aim to improve significantly the security of visas and residence permits and in particular strengthen the link between the visas and passport holder and the individual concerned. They will provide improved safeguards against false identity and the forgery of documents. The UK participates in the original measures on which these build and the Commission have made clear their intention to use these measures as the basis for further EU biometric work.

  A number of amendments have been made to the Regulations during negotiations. The key amendments as far as the UK is concerned is the introduction of a new Recital which has been inserted into both Regulations following our intervention which notes that new technological developments should be taken into account when the Regulations are amended in future. The Explanatory Memorandum of 20 October indicated that the UK might have difficulties meeting the 2005 deadline for the integration of the photograph in the Residence Permit (now amended to 31 December 2005 from 14 August 2005). The position has, however, now improved and the UK is working to ensure that photographs will be available on all UK Residence Permits by the end of 2004.

  Start up and running costs are estimated at £60 million with £27 million annual costs for visa biometrics and £24 million with £15 million continuing costs for residence permits. Work is continuing to refine these figures.

  With regard to the under-resourcing of the national supervisory bodies on data protection, the Information Commissioner recognises that should the biometric proposals be adopted, that extra demands will be placed upon the supervisory bodies, the cost of which will have to met by individual member-states.

  It is expected that the Regulations will be submitted for political agreement shortly.

10 February 2004

Letter from the Chairman to Caroline Flint MP

  Thank you for your letters of 5 January and 10 February about these proposals, which Sub-Committee F (Home Affairs) of the Select Committee on the European Union considered at a meeting on 10 March.

  We are grateful for the interesting information that you provided about the initiatives being taken in the area of biometrics and welcome the progress that is being made. We are also pleased to note that the Government have decided to opt into these measures, and we welcome the fact that the United Kingdom now expects to be able to meet the 2005 target for inclusion of photographs in residence permits.

  We note the estimates of cost that you provided but are unclear about the distinction between "running", "annual" and "continuing" costs. We would be grateful for clarification of this and for any more detailed breakdown that you can provide in the light of the further work to refine the figures that you mention. We also note what you say about resourcing the Information Commissioner for the additional work arising from the biometric proposals. We would be grateful for an assurance that the Government will meet these extra costs.

  Finally, what you say about the arrangements for obtaining photographs for application registration cards for asylum applications by Muslim women does not quite answer the question we asked, which is whether photographs of Muslim women will be taken unveiled for the purposes of uniform visas and residence permits. We also asked what the current practice of the Saudi authorities is in photographing Saudi women for the purpose of issuing passports. Indeed we would be interested to know what practice is followed in other strict Muslim countries in this regard.

  We would be grateful for your further comments on these points, in the light of which we would expect to be able to clear the documents. In the meantime we will continue to hold them under scrutiny.

10 March 2004

Letter from Caroline Flint MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter dated 10 March in which you asked for further information on whether Muslim women would be photographed unveiled for the purposes of visas and residence permits; the breakdown of costs for biometrics in residence permits and visas; and assurance from the Government that it will provide the extra costs for the Information Commissioner for additional work arising from biometric proposals.

  The draft regulations do not provide guidance on what procedure should be undertaken for photographing such women for the purposes of a facial identifier on a visa or a residence permit. I consider that is instead a matter for the Article 6 technical committee to consider. I expect the technical committee to adopt International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidance on this point.

  That guidance states that in regard to displayed identification features of the holder that: "The displayed portrait shall: a) depict the face of the rightful holder of the MRTD [Machine Readable Travel Document] in a full-face frontal pose with both eyes visible, ie captured perpendicular to an imaginary plane formed parallel to the front surface of the face; or b) if the additional detail of one ear is required (sometimes referred to as "half-on profile"), the face shall be at such an angle to the imaginary plane as to reveal the detail of the ear while maintaining full-face frontal details on that side of the face opposite to the exposed ear." That is to say an unveiled photograph.

  You also asked for clarification on the position of Muslim countries in issuing passports for women. In the vast majority of cases, both in applying for a visa and on entry in the UK, passports contain unveiled photographs. There are very few exceptions to this and usually involve members of the ruling family.

  There may be rare circumstances where an older passport is produced without a photograph or a photograph where the person is veiled and where a valid visa is held. In these circumstances immigration officers at ports of entry would interview the passenger in depth; for example, asking questions covering personal and visa issue details and if necessary reference would be made to the appropriate visa issuing post.

  With regard to visa costs, start-up costs for the entry clearance operation (visa costs) consist of: capital and resource costs required for hardware costs, office building work, advertising at each post, post costs relating to furniture and firecrest terminals, overseas UK-based staff costs. Additional costs include FCO staffing costs and UK staff costs including software development, installation and training. These were estimated at £60 million by UK Visas in November 2003. Running costs consist of annual salaries for 515 UK and overseas based staff, the maintenance of hardware, the expansion of FCO Communications and contactless chips for each visa. These were estimated at £27 million per annum by UK Visas in November 2003.

  For residence permits, start-up costs are estimated to be in the region of £24 million. These consist of equipment, network, development, training, project team and furniture costs. Annual running costs are estimated to be in the region of £15 million per annum. These consist of Network and hardware maintenance in addition to the cost of biometric vignettes and Helpdesk support and staff costs.

  We will further develop cost estimates following adoption of these regulations and the subsequent discussions of the technical committee on the technical specifications for the collection and storage of biometric identifiers.

  Regarding the resourcing of the Information Commissioner, we are considering these costs against the wider implications for the Commissioner of the increased use of biometrics.

  It is expected that the Regulations will be submitted for political agreement shortly.

1 April 2004

Letter from the Chairman to Caroline Flint MP

  Thank you for your letter of 1 April, which Sub-Committee F (Home Affairs) of the Select Committee on the European Union considered on 21 April.

  We were very grateful for the additional information provided about photographing Muslim women and the costs of implementing these two Regulations. We were disappointed that you were not able to give a firmer assurance about resourcing the Information Commission's Office for the increased use of biometrics, and hope that this important point will not be lost sight of.

  We have cleared the document from scrutiny.

21 April 2004




 
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