Biometric checks cut UK visa processing time

Biometric checks cut UK visa processing time

Applicants worldwide must now provide biometrics to ensure they are not applying illegally

The UK government claims its new visa application system has cut the time to check the identity of applicants by two days.

The software – delivered last month on time and under budget - checks the biometrics of visa applicants at one of more than 150 issuing posts around the world against a database of previous applicants.

This prevents visa "fraudsters" re-entering the country, according to Tony Mercer, network operations director at the government agency UKvisas.

“The real-time link provides us with a way of securely accessing existing information on applicants held in the UK, helping us to ensure that visas are not granted to people who have previously been removed from the country and are attempting to re-enter under a false identity," he said.

The system – which now takes half an hour to perform checks that previously took two days – will help UKvisas meet processing targets.

It will also improve the accuracy of checks – crucial to avoiding costly deportation estimated at £11,000 per person by the National Audit Office (NAO). The system has already caught nearly 500 people lying about their identity to try to obtain a visa.

Changes in legislation due to come into force in 2008 mean that all applications for visas must be supported by biometric checks.

The software was supplied by Software AG and was delivered by PA Consulting Group.

In November last year a report by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) found that the UKvisas online visa application web site had been in breach of the data protection act as applicants were able to view the personal details of others.

The site –previously run by Indian firm VFS global – has now been replaced by the visa4UK web site run by the Foreign Office.