Starting this November, the UK Border Agency began issuing the new national ID card to non-EU students and marriage visa holders. This has been described by some critics as a “softening up” procedure for the introduction of ID cards for every UK resident. By next April, the Border Agency hopes to have 50,000 cards issued. Planning for the implementation process started in early 2007.
Cards contain information, such as name, date of birth, place of birth and immigration status. Furthermore, a chip with fingerprint information is inserted into each card alongside a photograph of the person.
Non-EU international students and those holding marriage or civil partnership visas are considered most likely to violate British immigration law. By having cards with identity and immigration details, it is hoped illegal immigration and identity fraud will be countered. Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, stated: “Employers and colleges want to be confident people are who they say they are and immigration and police officers want to verify identity and detect abuse.”
Here at the University of Sussex, the vast majority of the student body, it seems, holds negative views towards the implementation process. Henry Smith, a politics student at the university, explained how the “the whole situation is pretty totalitarian. The government keeps getting further and further into civilian life. Soon it will be 1984.”
The official position of the university, however, is much more lenient. A spokesperson for the university stated: “The new system does bring benefits for students and the UK higher education sector as a whole. For example, the rationalisation of criteria used by visa officers will be an improvement on current arrangements where the criteria used can vary greatly.”
The University, by no means, glorifies the establishment of ID cards. However, it is willing to work with the UK Border Agency in the implementation process. The university stated: “We would prefer not to be placed in a mediating position between students and the UK Border Agency (UKBA), obliged to monitor and report non-attendance. However, the time to debate this is over and we have, since early 2007, been working hard with the government and other universities to make sure that the implementation and running of the scheme is fair and reasonable. We have managed to get many specific changes to the initial proposals resulting in a better-phased implementation timeline.”
“This process has a full political and legislative mandate and Sussex – like every other higher education institution – is legally obliged to engage with the scheme.”
“Since the implementation planning process began in early 2007, we have focused our energies on seeking to influence the detail of implementation in order to minimise inconvenience and cost to students.”
The government anticipates the card to cut down the many security risks evident in society. However, SNP Home Affairs spokesman, Pete Wishart MP, stated: “These cards will not make our communities more secure, they will not reduce the terrorist threat and they will not make public services more efficient.”
Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, is another opponent towards card implementation, seeing as it is predominantly aimed at non-citizens who cannot vote. “The government is using vulnerable members of our society, like foreign nationals who do not have the vote, as guinea pigs for a deeply unpopular and unworkable policy,” he said.
Not only is the idea of the national ID card seen as unjust and maybe even totalitarian, it is also a very costly project. Mr Wishart stated that the government looked “absurd” for going about with this expensive plan. By 2018, the government is expected to spend £311 million on the project, with main funding coming from visa charges.
So, are ID cards parts of legislation necessary to quell the feelings of insecurity that terrorize society? Probably not. In fact, many feel that the government having more access to civilian life is worse than the problems of identify fraud and illegal immigration. However, with the responsibility of protecting the country and its citizens, the government will sometimes implement unpopular legislation like the ID card.