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Fingerprint visas are becoming a first line of defence against illegal immigration, according to the Home Office.

The Home Office said it has taken more than half a million sets of fingerprints from visa applicants, equivalent to a set checked every 30 seconds, since the programme began last year.

"New fingerprint visas are fast becoming our first line of defence against illegal immigration," said Home Office minister Liam Byrne.

"By collecting fingerprint information on foreign nationals coming to the UK in advance of their journey, we are building a new overseas border control which is flushing out the false visa applicants."

Compulsory fingerprinting, which began in September 2006, is now part of the UK visa application process in just under half of the world's countries. It will cover around three quarters of the world's population once finished.

Fingerprints are taken as part of the visa application process and are then checked against UK government records to identify if the individual is already known to the immigration authorities.

Once in the UK the authorities can use the same data to check if someone is eligible to work, or to help re-issue travel documents if they are lost or destroyed.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Dr Kim Howells said: "Recording biometric information allows us to fix an individual's identity at the earliest point practicable and track their future dealings with the UK."

The Home Office has highlighted a number of cases in which fingerprinting has helped immigration officers.

In one case a Sudanese businessman applied for a visa to come to the UK, claiming he wanted to go to the UK for shopping and tourism. Although he declared that he had not travelled to the UK before or ever been deported, a biometric check showed a failed asylum claim in 2004 under a different identity. His visa application was refused.

UKvisas, a joint directorate of the Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, is currently collaborating with several European countries in pilots on joint biometric capture.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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