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Belarus: Entry Clearances

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 6 December 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will consider granting a waiver on the collection of biometric data for organised groups of children from Belarus affected by the Chernobyl disaster seeking to visit the UK; and if he will make a statement. (171223)

The requirement for visa nationals to provide biometric data as part of the visa application process was introduced under the provisions of The Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2006 that came into force on 4 July 2006. There are very few exemptions or exceptions to this and, of necessity, these are very tightly drawn. We do not, as a matter of policy or law, collect biometric data from children under the age of five years or from certain individuals, Heads of State, for example, but require all other applicants to comply with the requirements of the 2006 Regulation.

I am aware of the important work undertaken by UK charities to provide respite care for children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. We had hoped to collect fingerprints from these children in a separate visa application centre close to their homes thereby avoiding them having to travel to our embassy in Minsk. Unfortunately, despite lengthy negotiations we were unable to secure agreement from the Belarussian authorities. I am however pleased to confirm that we will be introducing a pilot initiative next year to enable our embassy in Minsk to collect the children’s biometric data through mobile fingerprinting machines. The embassy will be working with the charities to confirm arrangements for this pilot.