Reid promises electronic border controls to check visitor numbers

Reid promises electronic border controls to check visitor numbers

· Biometric ID cards for foreign residents in UK
· ‘Shop a rogue employer’ plan to curb illegal jobs

Alan Travis, home affairs editor, The Guardian, July 26, 2006

The home secretary, John Reid, yesterday promised to introduce electronic border controls that will count in and out of the country the 90 million people who travel to Britain each year, but admitted the new system will not be fully running until 2014.

Mr Reid said the embarkation controls will form the cornerstone of his package to restore public confidence in the immigration service that he had declared « not fit for purpose ». The « eBorders » programme logging all entries and exits will be introduced in stages over the next eight years, starting with highest risk routes, with enforcement action taken against those who overstay their welcome.

Embarkation controls were abolished for the 40% of travellers going to other European states by the Conservative government in 1994, with the remaining checks lifted by Labour in 1998 on the grounds that « they contributed little to the integrity of immigration control » as there was no way of accessing the mountain of paper they produced. The new system using modern technology will start in 2008 but will take six years to implement.

But Mr Reid was warned last night his reform programme will lack credibility unless he tackles the backlog of more than 250,000 illegal migrants already in the country, first by declaring a one-off regularisation programme or an amnesty. Jack Dromey of the Transport and General Workers’ Union said he was extremely disappointed that any discussion of an amnesty had been dismissed in favour of tough talk of cracking down in the workplace. « It may be a politically unpopular bullet to bite, but only regularisation will make it transparent who is actually working in our economy, » he said.

The home secretary yesterday again ruled out such calls for an amnesty but promised to settle, within five years, up to 450,000 unresolved « legacy » cases, which date back to the late 1990s. It is expected that those who can be easily removed will be deported but most will be quietly allowed to stay.

But Mr Reid unveiled other reforms to « strengthen Britain’s borders » including:

· Introducing a new target for processing asylum claims with 35% granted or removed within six months by next year and 90% by 2011.

· Introduction of biometric identity cards for foreign nationals resident in Britain from 2008. The decision to push ahead with ID cards for foreigners before British citizens will trigger a high court challenge.

· Introduce biometric visas and « authority to travel » schemes so airlines face penalties if they carry passengers not entitled to enter Britain.

· Introduce with Crimestoppers a shop-a-rogue employer scheme to tackle those who employ illegal migrants.

· Put immigration staff at airports and ports into uniform and double resources for enforcement and surveillance.

A new drive will be made to step up removals of failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants with a fresh attempt made to reach memorandums of understanding with countries such as Algeria about the treatment of those sent back. Mr Reid said the government was prepared to legislate if its challenge to the Chahal judgment in the European court of human rights continued to act as a legal block on its attempt to deport international terror suspects.

« We will make it easier to deport people under UK law, within the terms of the judgment, limiting as far as possible the ability to stop the deportation of those the government considers necessary to deport or remove for reasons of national security, » he said.

He confirmed the government is to press ahead with its new points-based migration system and said it will introduce a « trusted traveller » scheme that will speed their journey through airports.

Mr Reid said the package was only in outline and further details will be published later this year.

But the opposition was not impressed. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, called it « another reshuffling of the deck » while the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg said the reform programme was plagued by delays.