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Europe

Britain Prepares to Introduce ID Cards for Non-EU Citizens

Britain has made it compulsory for anyone visiting the country from outside the European Union for more than six months to apply for a biometric photo identity card.

Biometric ID card

UK Identity Card, which will be issued to foreign nationals

The first cards will go to students and the husbands, wives and partners of permanent residents who apply for permission to extend their stay.

About 50,000 cards are expected to be issued to foreign nationals by April 2009. The Home Office estimates that three million foreign nationals will have the card by 2010. Ministers want 90 percent of foreigners in the UK to have cards with fingerprints and personal details on, by April 2015.

"A dark day in British history"

"We want to prevent those living here illegally from benefiting from the privileges of Britain. Businesses, other employers and colleges want to be confident that those they are employing or taking onto courses are who they say they are, and have the right to work or study in our country," Jacqui Smith, the home secretary said.

The opposition Conservatives called the cards an expensive gimmick. The Liberal Democrats called it a "dark day in British history".

They will contain the fingerprints, name, date of birth, nationality and the person's right to be in the UK.

To get an ID card, people will have their faces scanned and will have to give 10 fingerprints.

Smith said the cards and the new points system will make "our borders more secure and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, illegal working and benefit fraud tackled".

She said these measures would not be discriminatory.

UK could alienate foreign talent

Madonna singing live

Madonna is getting out before she needs a card

However, opposition parties and campaigners fear that the ID cards scheme will affect Britain's cultural life. They have warned of damage to the country's image abroad, and said celebrities like American actor Kevin Spacey, singer Madonna or Brazilian soccer star Robinho may not be interested in applying for cards to live in Britain in pursuit of their professions.

Unlike its continental European neighbours, Britain has never had a mandatory ID card scheme other than during wartime, but the idea has gathered momentum since suicide bombings in London in July 2005 that left 56 dead.

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