ID cards a must for non-Europeans living in Britain

November 25th, 2008 - 1:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 25 (IANS) Britain Tuesday made it compulsory for anyone visiting the country from outside the European Union for more than six months to apply for a biometric photo identity card.Two days from now, tiers two and five of the new points-based immigration system - aimed at skilled workers with job offers and temporary workers - will also come into force.

About 50,000 cards are expected to be issued to foreign nationals by April 2009. The Home Office estimates that three million foreign nationals will have the card by 2010.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, wants 90 percent of foreign residents in Britain to have identity cards by 2014.

“We want to prevent those living here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain. Businesses, other employers and colleges want to be confident that those they are employing or taking onto courses are who they say they are, and have the right to work or study in our country,” Smith said.

To get an ID card, people will have their faces scanned and will have to give 10 fingerprints.

On the front of the card will be their name, the place and date of issue of the card, the type of permit, how long it is valid and whether or not they can work. On the back will be their date and place of birth, sex, nationality and whether or not they have access to publicly funded state benefits and some services.

Students renewing their visa who are issued with an identity card will pay between 295 and 500 pounds ($450-760), and those renewing marriage visas between 395 and 595 pounds. If they lose the card, they will have to pay a renewal fee of 30 pounds.

From Nov 27, two more tiers under the points based system will be launched. Under the reforms employers who wish to recruit staff from these two categories will have to register with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and promise to inform the authorities if migrants fail to turn up or disappear.

However, only 1,900 companies have registered with the agency out of thousands that employ foreign workers.

To recruit skilled workers from overseas, companies must first advertise a job for a minimum of two weeks in Britain. Only if they are unable to fill it are they allowed to employ a worker from outside the European Economic Area.

A migrant worker will need to have set minimum qualifications, speak English, be able to support themselves without recourse to state benefits and have the skills needed for the vacancy.

Smith said the cards and the new points system will make “our borders more secure and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled”.

She said these measures would not be discriminatory.

“The Australian-style points system will ensure only those we need - and no more - can come here. It is also flexible, allowing us to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of business and taking population trends into account.”

However, opposition parties and campaigners fear that the ID cards scheme will affect Britain’s cultural life. They have warned of damage to the country’s image abroad, and said celebrities like American singer Madonna or Brazilian footballer Robinho may not be interested in applying for cards to live in Britain in pursuit of their professions.

A group including author Philip Pullman, musicians Neil Tennant and Brian Eno, campaigning Queen’s Counsel Baroness Kennedy, and comedians Mark Thomas and Lucy Porter wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph, criticising the ID card scheme.

“Successful foreigners such as Robinho or Kevin Spacey, and the overseas students who subsidise our universities, have a lot of choice where they study or exercise their talents. Some will decide Britain has become too unfriendly,” the letter said.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, supported the concerns: “Foreign nationals continue to make an enormous contribution to British culture, from the Premier League to the performing arts. If these people choose to go elsewhere to places that won’t treat them like criminals, this country will be all the poorer for it.”

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