Recently, the term "Biometrics" has also been used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition. (definition from the International Biometric Society)
The roots of the Biometric Enrolment Program trace back to the eBorders Scheme which was announced in 2003 and began pilot testing in 2004. At that time, the Home Office issued a statement explaining the new program: "The database of information and increasing collection of biometric data will make it harder for people to conceal their identity." At that time, the program envisioned a two-pronged approach, the first being the collection of biometric data to facilitate the passage of frequent travellers through UK immigration controls; and the second to reduce identity theft and other forms of abuse caused by lost or forged passports. This advert (pdf), which was run in July 2006, shows the seriousness of the government's commitment to the eBorders Scheme.
In November 2006, UKvisas (now the Visa Services Directorate) retained Cogent Systems to provide biometric capture equipment to British consulates abroad. This roll-out continued through to 2007 when the Visa Services Directorate adopted the strategy of using 3rd party contractors (also called "commercial partners") to perform the actual collection of biometric data. By the middle of 2008, all visa issuing posts abroad were in a position to receive and process biometric data from applicants. With an initial success that can only be described as stunning, the system began flagging up bogus asylum seekers who had been expelled from the UK and were attempting to re-enter with forged passports. With this encouraging news, we now await the second promise of biometrics, which is to provide increased mobility for the low-risk traveller.
Along a separate strand, the Home Secretary appeared before Parliament in 2003 and made this statement:
"Post-11 September 2001 I was asked on a number of occasions, starting on the end of the week of 11 September, whether I believed that we should have ID cards as a consequence of the attack on the World Trade Center, and I said on record several times, and I still believe it, that whilst there could be a contribution towards countering terrorism this was not the primary purpose, and although it would be part of any such scheme it should not be seen as the sole focus. I went on to say that it was probably sensible, if we were going to move towards such a programme, to describe it as being part of entitlement (entitlement to services and benefits) which we had built up by the contributions we made and the mutuality that has stood us in good stead and is part of the National Insurance concept of the post-Second World War settlement. I then took that to the appropriate Cabinet committee the following January, that is January 2002. When we launched the consultation proper in the July it soon became clear that people did not like the term "entitlement" card. They thought that it should be an ID card, that it should be explicit rather than implicit, that it should give a clearer picture that it encompassed tackling terrorism and organised crime, and they believed that it would be more honest and transparent of the Government to do so, so in a nutshell we agreed after listening to the results of the consultation that that is what we should describe it as [an identity card]."
This debate ultimately culminated in provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 which instructed the government to begin issuing id cards to foreign nationals in the UK. And from this authority, the government conducted public consultations and ultimately produced a code of practices. In-country biometric enrolment began in 2008 in a limited roll-out which covered a subset of London postal codes. Because of its ambitious nature, the full roll-out still lies several years in the future. At the end of the road, we expect that ID cards will be required for both British nationals and immigrants alike.
With the creation of the UK Borders Agency in 2008, we foresee these two strands merging into a comprehensive program. We hope, for example, to see a more rigorous filter against "false positives" wherein a biometric match is made on the wrong individual.
Enough of theory and history. We now turn to the practical side and outline what you can expect when enrolling. This article assumes that you are using the online application procedure.
Making the appointment. The final step in completing the online application is making an appointment. You will be given a list of enrolment centres and available appointment times to select from. The list is generated from the address you gave at the beginning of the application and should represent a reasonable geographic radius from your address. Once the appointment has been booked, you will receive an appointment confirmation which you will need later. If you need to change your booking later, you can do so, but take note that your current booking will be cancelled before you see the new list of available appointments. This can make matters worse, so we urge that the initial appointment be made with diligent planning.
Checking in: upon arrival at the enrolment centre, the receptionist or security guard will check your appointment confirmation and identity documents and reconcile those to the "official" appointment list. You will then be directed to a waiting area. Some centres use a numbering system and in these cases you will be provided with a number. NOTE: some centres do not allow the applicant to be accompanied by 3rd parties such as relatives or spouses, and these people may not be allowed to enter with you. This policy varies from centre to centre, so if your spouse or relative is accompanying you, we suggest checking with the centre to assure that they will be admitted to the waiting area.
The enrolment process: You will be called to an enrolment station. This is an area which contains a fingerprint scanner (see photo) and a camera. Your identification will be checked once more and the process will begin. It generally involves the following steps...
Once the process begins, it takes between 5 to 10 minutes to complete.
Enrolment Centres: It is the strategy of the Visa Services Directorate that enrolment be provided by 3rd party contractors. Therefore, you may wish to take note of the following...
People applying for an extension of stay in the United Kingdom for leaves of over six months (including indefinite leave to remain) will also need to complete the section of the application form which covers biometric immigration documents. Biometric immigration document is the legal term for identity cards for foreign nationals.
If applying in person at a PEO, your biometric information will be taken during the appointment. For postal applications, you will receive a bar coded letter explaining biometrics and inviting you to have them taken. You will need to take the letter to participating Crown Post Offices to complete the process.
Updated 5 June 2012