UK visa applicants from over 100 countries are presently required to provide fingerprints and a digital photograph as part of the UK immigration process. The British government has been pleased with the results, so much so that it plans to introduce biometric requirements for all visa applicants, regardless of their country of residence, by April 2008. These changes will affect those applying for work visas, tourist visas, and those that fall under the family category, such as spousal, partner, and prospective marriage (fiancee) visas.
These changes have been made mainly in an effort to enhance border security and reduce visa fraud. While it is quite possible to invent a new identity, it is not possible to change one’s fingerprints, so authorities can effectively use biometric information to identify individuals who may pose a threat to the UK, even if they are using a false identity.
It is already evident that this approach is more effective than the application process used in the past. Since implementing the program, over 8,000 people attempting to obtain UK visas have been identified as individuals of concern. By comparing a visa applicant’s fingerprints with those contained in the records of the UK government, those who provided certain types of false information on their application, committed visa fraud in the past, or overstayed a previous visa can be identified and effectively kept out of the UK.
The UK government has high hopes for these changes. In addition to preventing illegal travel and immigration, they hope that having biometric information on all applicants will make the visa process run more smoothly. These changes have also been introduced, in part, to protect UK visa applicants themselves. Having a fingerprint on file with the UK government means that others will not be able to assume their identity or submit a false application on their behalf.
Fingerscans will be useful not only during the UK settlement visa process, but also after the applicant becomes a permanent resident of the UK. Biometric information could be a valuable tool for Immigration Services personnel and law enforcement professionals investigating the activities of foreign nationals residing in the UK. Through their fingerprints, they could access potentially useful information, such as the foreign individual’s identity, date of birth, and country of origin. Essentially, the activities of those who have immigrated to the UK will be able to be monitored more closely than they could be in the past.
As of August 31, over 700,000 fingerprints have been collected, and that number will increase dramatically over the next year, as it is estimated that as many as 100,000 new fingerprints are being collected, examined, and stored for future reference every month.
These new changes are being introduced in many countries as early as next month. As of December 4, 2007, for example, all UK visa applicants residing in Australia must provide fingerscans and a digital photograph as part of the UK immigration process. Other countries, such as Canada, are opening additional visa application centers to allow spousal visa and family visa applicants to meet these new requirements.
Eventually, the fingerprints of every foreign national who has gone through the visa application process will be in the possession of the UK government, which will hopefully enhance the safety and security of not only British borders, but also the entire nation.