The documents, seen by Sky News, reveal the Home Office’s plans for post-Brexit VISA policies. New migrants visiting the UK once it leaves the European Union will be given digital identities and have their visa filtered by “automated checks,” according to the presentation.
Each migrant will be designated an “individual immigration status”, which is to replace the current biometric residence permits, as soon as they apply for permission to travel to Britain, which will be “digitally ‘stamped’ as they cross the border”.
The individual immigration status will be “checked by employers and public service providers to establish rights to work and access services and benefits in the UK”. According to Sky News, people who have seen the documents say it resembles a “digital ID card”.
The plans, part of a wider digital reform of the immigration systems, have sparked concerns that it could be used for surveillance by the government. Labour MP Chi Onwurah told Sky News: “Digital ID cards have been rejected by the people of this country.
“You have opportunities for monitoring, for tracking, for people hacking it – but then you also have issues with the data that’s being used to create that and whether it’s biased.”
Phil Booth, who led NO2ID, a public campaign group formed in 2004 to lobby against the government’s plan to introduce UK ID Cards, said: “It looks like the Home Office dumped the idea of a physical ID card, but retained the giant database behind it.
“Given landlords and employers face stiff penalties for renting to or hiring ‘the wrong person’, how long before everyone is forced onto the system if they want to rent or buy a house, or apply for a job?”
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According to the documents, “automated checks of government data” will be key to the changes, which will see algorithms sifting visa applications. Ian Robinson, who worked for the Home Office for eight years before becoming a partner at law firm Fragomen, where he leads on UK immigration and government strategies, says the checks will use applicants’ data to assess applications automatically.
“It will focus on particular biographical features of visa applicants: their age, nationality, whether or not they are working and the type of work they are doing and the salary they are paid,” he told Sky News.
“If you had a visitor from a less economically developed country but were themselves a very economically established, so a businessman from China or India, they would probably flag for an extra check but as soon as [the Home Office] could see that they are working, they have a home life, they have a family, that person wouldn’t be an issue.
“If you were looking at a single man from an entirely undeveloped economies or less developed economies that’s when a flag would be raised.”
The new system, according to the documents, will take into account trade deals established by the UK after Brexit with one slide reading, “Not all nationalities will be treated the same. As now, we will differentiate on risk and/or trade deals.
These automated checks will also leverage government data on tax and benefits to check whether the applicant meets the criteria for remaining in the UK – for example, the requirement that skilled migrants earn over £30,000 a year.
The presentation asserts that these digital reforms will help reduce the time it takes to process “the majority of skilled work applications” for visas from six months to two-three weeks.
In June, the Financial Times exposed that the Home Office was discretely processing visa applications using a streaming algorithm, which grades visa applications red, amber or green according to their level of risk. The result of this then forwarded to an immigration caseworker.
It is expected that the scheme will be a new version of the same system, which has raised concerns it could be biased against applicants based on nationality or race.
Onwurah, who is chair of the all-party group for Africa, said: “I think its absolutely horrifying. The algorithms will be automating all the biases that are packed into the data that’s being used. People can make judgements about the validity of data algorithms can’t and that is the key difference.”