Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eighteenth Report


NEW UNIFORM FORMAT FOR VISAS


(22785)

12730/01

COM(01) 577


Draft Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1683/95 laying down a uniform format for visas.

Legal base:Article 62(2)(b)(iii)EC; consultation; qualified majority of participating States
Document originated:9 October 2001
Forwarded to the Council:10 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament:25 October 2001
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 31 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:HC 152-xiv (2001-02), paragraph 3 (23 January 2002)
To be discussed in Council:February 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared, but further information requested



Background

  10.1  This draft Regulation gives implementing powers to the Uniform Format Visa Comitology Committee to adopt technical measures for two purposes. The first, in the words of the Commission's explanatory memorandum, is for "the integration of a photograph produced according to high security standards, in order to establish a more reliable link between the holder and the visa format". The second is to allow the possibility of changing the colours of the visa format "if an urgent need occurs to counteract forgeries."

  10.2  The proposal is in line with the Conclusions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 20 September and the European Council of 21 September which emphasised that the European Union should take immediate action to improve the security standards of travel documents.

  10.3  When we considered the document in January, we were surprised that, even after the 11 September terrorist attacks, it was considered necessary to add a photograph to a visa which was presumably attached to a passport already containing a photograph. We asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) if she could justify the duplication, especially as she had told us that it might result in an increase in visa fees. We also ask her to explain why the UK decided to participate in this measure.

The Minister's letter

  10.4  The Minister has now responded, with a full explanation. She says:

"The Commission's proposal aims to improve the existing security standards of the uniform format visa (UFV) by introducing a highly secure photograph into the uniform format visa to enable a link to be made between the passport holder and the visa. This is considered necessary as visas issued by EU Member States, including the UK, are all in the form of a sticker placed in a passport. Even using the best adhesives it is possible for the best forgers, using various skilled forging techniques, to remove visas from passports, alter or replace personal details of the holder and substitute them into another document. As an alternative, the forger has the option of dismantling the passport, removing the page with the visa on it, altering or replacing the personal data and then substituting it into another person's passport.

"Placing an image of the visa holder on to a visa vignette, especially if it is done using technology, will make alteration or removal of the image extremely difficult without the fraud becoming readily apparent. This will greatly help in disrupting forgery by substitution. It will also assist in verifying that the person presenting the visa is the same as was seen by the visa officer and is the rightful passport holder. This is now of paramount importance as UK visas also confer leave to enter on the holder, making the role of the immigration officer on arrival primarily one of verification that the person presenting the visa is the same as seen by the visa officer.

"We have said that the entry clearance operational running costs would rise since the process for each visa issued would include the scanning or taking of a photograph and its subsequent manipulation. As part of the entry clearance full cost recovery regime this could lead to an increase in visa fees. However, we may be able to save resources elsewhere in the UK Immigration Control through fewer fraudulent entry clearances being encountered. I should add, however that any proposed increase in visa fees is subject to separate parliamentary scrutiny through the House of Commons Committee on Statutory Instruments."

  10.5  In relation to our question about UK participation, the Minister tells us:

"We have indicated that we will so far as possible participate in co­operation to combat illegal immigration. The UK is a leading player in the committee that sets security requirements of the UFV. We play a prominent role within the EU in combating document fraud detection. Furthermore, unless we produced documents with similar specifications to the EU format models, the credibility of the security of UK visas would be undermined if we had not opted in to this proposal."

Conclusion

  10.6  We thank the Minister for her helpful response. While we accept her explanation, we think it regrettable that a degree of duplication appears to be necessary, and hope that every effort will be made to reduce this, without endangering security.

  10.7  We clear the document, but ask the Minister:

(1)  to confirm that all visas issued by EU Member States are stuck into passports; and

(2)  to give us an assessment of the cost involved in taking and scanning a photograph for a visa and its subsequent manipulation.


 
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