AUSTRALIA: Crackdown on fraudulent visa applications with biometric data

Australia will join the global clampdown on fraudulent visa applications by expanding its collection of biometric data to onshore applicants.

Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced the change today, saying it would reduce identity fraud and fraudulent claims.

"Around the world identity fraud and fraudulent visa applications are on the rise," he told journalists in Sydney.

"We need to make sure that Australia's toolbox is world's best practice for dealing with this."

Biometrics data will now be collected from all applicants for protection visas lodged in Australia, alongside those for most overseas applicants.

The federal government will also begin the phased introduction of biometric data collection for processing offshore visa applications.

The type of data that would be collected include digital facial images and 10-digit fingerprint scans.

Mr Bowen said this would help establish the identity of protection visa applicants who arrived in Australia often without sufficient documentation.

It would also strengthen Australia's ability to detect "inconsistent" claims.

"Biometrics is an important tool in our efforts against identity fraud and against fraudulent visa applications," Mr Bowen said.

Biometric data collection is already pursued in United Kingdom, United States, some European countries and Canada.

From December, paper-based visa applications lodged in 16 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East will be required to submit biometric data.

Mr Bowen said seven more countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East would be added in later months.

Applicants who apply for visas online and are eligible for an electronic travel document will not be required to supply biometric data.

"We are collaborating closely with the United Kingdom border protection agency and we've signed an agreement with them to use their facilities in various locations around the world, which will reduce the costs and include the efficiency of our biometric testing around the world," Mr Bowen said.

Asked if use of biometric data collection could have stopped Michael Munster, the Belgian criminal who escaped from a Sydney detention centre, from entering Australia Mr Bowen said he hoped it would.

"It does have that potential," he said.

"He's the person who denied having a criminal record on his visa application.

"This sort of technology would certainly improve the chances of catching that sort of thing."

The federal government allocated $69 million for the expansion of biometric data collection in the 2010/11 budget.