The Federal Government has announced a major expansion in its use of biometrics to now include all onshore protection visa applicants.
Biometric data will be lodged for all protection visa applicants' data in Australia as well as those visas processed in “selected” overseas locations. Collected data comprises digital facial images and a 10-digit fingerprint scan.
According to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, the move will enable the better management of visa and immigration processes, improve identity management and combat fraud.
“This initiative will assist in establishing the identity of protection visa applicants who arrive in Australia but are often unable to provide sufficient documentation to prove their identity, and strengthen our ability to detect inconsistent immigration claims,” Bowen said in a statement.
According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) the initiative - worth $69 million over four years - will be funded through a part of the 2010–11 Federal Budget specifically aimed at introducing new visa lodgement and biometric checking processes.
“The department is phasing in the use of biometrics in a risk-based, staged approach to improve identity management for visa applicants,” a DIAC spokesperson told Computerworld Australia.
“Biometrics is an important tool in the fight against identity crime and is rapidly becoming a mainstream part of identity management processes globally.”
Under the new program, all people, regardless of nationality, who lodge paper-based visa applications in the designated locations will be required to provide fingerprints and a photograph as part of their visa application.
“At this stage, applicants who lodge an electronic visa or Electronic Travel Authority, or who are otherwise exempted under policy, will not need to provide their biometrics,” the spokesperson said.
“The program is being undertaken in collaboration with the United Kingdom Government, which has a similar scheme already in operation. The existing United Kingdom Border Agency contracted service delivery partners will be initially used for the provision of visa application lodgement and biometric collection services.”
Australia will also begin the phased introduction of biometric collection in offshore visa application processing beginning with 16 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Countries include Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with further countries to be added next year.
According to the department, collection of biometric facial images and fingerprints was introduced into the immigration detention process in December 2007.
The department estimates identity fraud cost Australia more than $1.1 billion per year.
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