Govt fingerprinting all visa applicants

Nearly 500 people have been caught lying about their identity to immigration officials since the government began checking the fingerprints of visa applicants.

One person applying for a visa under a Lebanese passport was refused entry to the UK after it was discovered they had early applied for asylum as a Palestinian national.

A Zambian national was also turned down for a visa after fingerprint checks revealed they applied for asylum from Sierra Leone in 2001.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne unveiled the figure as he congratulated staff at the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) for successfully implementing fingerprint checks on all visa applicants three months ahead of schedule and millions under budget.

Anyone applying for a UK visa from 133 countries – representing three quarters of the world’s population – already has their fingerprints checked against a database.

From today the government wants anyone applying for a visa to have their fingerprints checked before they travel, with Mr Byrne setting a target for this to be implemented across the board within 15 days.

Addressing the BIA, he said: “The public wants stronger borders. They want us to shut down the causes of illegal immigration and hold newcomers to account, deporting rulebreakers where necessary.

“They also want a compassionate system, which makes and enforces decisions fast when we have obligations to honour – and lets those we need contribute to Britain as long as they speak English, pay tax and obey the law.

“My goal therefore in 2008 is as ambitious as it is urgent. There are four themes to our work: protection, prevention, accountability and compassion. By Christmas the system will look and feel different. Every month the public will be able to see us not talking about change but delivering on our ten point plan for change.”

Setting out the government’s timetable to achieve ten “milestones” on migration, Mr Byrne said employers would be issued with on the spot fines for failing to make right-to-work checks within two months.

In 200 days the government plans to activate powers to automatically deport foreign national prisoners.

And in 330 days foreign nationals wishing to stay in the UK will have to apply for an ID card.

Plans for compulsory ID cards for British citizens remain in doubt, although Mr Byrne said this morning the government remains enthusiastic.

Gordon Brown prompted speculation the cards would fall victim to his latest “review” after he said a compulsory scheme remained “an option”.

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Mr Byrne said the prime minister had simply been mindful of the need for parliamentary approval for any compulsory scheme.

But he said the voluntary scheme would need time to “run in” with any plans for compulsion “several years” away.