Britain will introduce a new uniformed border force, bring back checks for people leaving the country and automatically deport foreign prisoners under a sweeping reform of the immigration service announced on Tuesday.
The proposals are among a raft of measures designed to shake up the much-criticised Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). Immigration has been a major political issue with many Britons blaming illegal migrants for crime and social problems while the IND has been beset by a series of blunders.
In April, it emerged that over 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released from British jails and allowed to stay in the country when they should have been considered for deportation. The issue led to the dismissal of Charles Clarke as home secretary and the government has since acknowledged it has no clear idea how many illegal migrants are in the country. "We need to reform its systems so that they are truly able to meet the challenge of hugely changed circumstances,"
Home Secretary John Reid told parliament on Tuesday.
Better border surveillance with the creation of a "visible, uniformed presence".
A requirement for visa applicants from the "highest risk countries" to have biometric identity documents by 2008. Applicants would also be fingerprinted and face checks before they arrived in the UK.
Embarkation passport checks for those leaving the UK will be phased back in along with better monitoring at borders to "count everyone in and out" by 2014.
Change the law to allow the automatic deportation of foreign prisoners after their sentence is completed.
Disbar company officials who are criminally liable for consenting to or knowingly employing illegal immigrants.
Speed up asylum applications to deal with 75 percent of new cases within six months by 2009 and 90 percent by 2011.
Establish the IND as a semi-independent agency with resources shifted from headquarters to frontline staff.
Reid also said the government would push to change a European Court ruling to allow Britain to deport people considered a security threat but who faced possible mistreatment in their own country.
"We want to be able to take into account the threat to national security and also be able to rely on assurances given by the returnee country," Reid said. The opposition Conservatives dismissed the proposals, saying the government talked tough but had consistently failed to deal with the issue. "These last few years, I have sat on this bench and listened time after time to talk of crackdowns, initiatives and action plans on areas from bogus language schools to sham marriages".