ID Cards, Non-EU Students and the Seeds of Resistance: a look at the Governments plans to bring in ID cards for non-EU students and what is being done about it.
ID Cards and Non-EU Students On the 25th of November the Home Office is rolling out the first step of it’s ID Card scheme. (1) From that date non-EU Students varying or extending their leave to stay in the UK will be required to obtain biometric ID cards. This will require them submitting their information and fingerprints to the Border and Immigration Department, who will then use the cards to subsequently identify them. While this will initially only apply when they are being checked at borders or by immigration ‘Enforcement Staff’ (2) but as the technology becomes more available this will spread to employers and presumably educational establishments (3).
While not strictly Identity Cards within the meaning of the 2006 Bill, they will be designated as such when the National Identity Register is set up. By 2014/15 they plan to have 90% of foreign nationals on the Register. Even people with indefinite leave to stay will be included in the sweep as of 2012, with all people coming into the country being put on the Register after 2011. With the facts of the matter established, I would now like to talk a little bit about some of the issues and what is being done to resist this massive imposition of state power. For more detail on the implementation procedure, I strongly recommend that you read the Home Office Report sourced at the bottom.
As far as I’m concerned, this scheme on it’s own is xenophobic and dangerous. As part of broader government strategy, I think that it’s a cheap political move to make the scheme more acceptable before people start getting their doors kicked and arrested for not submitting their details to the government.
The scheme is xenophobic in the sense that it is an intrusive and aggressive way to reduce how many people enter the UK, and will be used to deny amnesty to those who have suffered in their home country or come to the UK when they have no other option. It also puts up pre-emptive obstacle to the large population that can be expected to move to Europe as climate change makes their lives more difficult. The scheme is dangerous because, even ignoring the all too possible abuse by ‘Enforcement Officers’ (4) , the latest government trial of biometrics recorded significant failure of the technology, with 19% of fingerprints used in the study not properly verified by machines (5). If the ID card is to a be a one-stop proof of identity, your situation will become complicated if the technology does not operate correctly. Given that the government and the police will inevitably target people from minority communities when looking for people who are here legally, such communities are at a considerable risk. There are also concerns that the card will increase tension between communities (6) and there are considerable concerns among ethnic minorities that the police will abuse their new powers. (7)
The other side of the debate is the fact that, in a rather transparent move, the government is attacking vulnerable communities as a quiet and politically acceptable way to introduce the scheme for the whole population. With National ID Cards becoming available in 2012 and increasingly compulsory after that, this move represents the ‘thin end of the wedge’. A discussion of the complicated issues around ID Cards and the National Identity Register is beyond the scope of this article but a number of links are at the bottom of the page if you want to learn more. (8)
Seeds of Resistance
So what is to be done? On Wednesday the 13th of November, two students at Edinburgh University presented a motion to the University Student’s Association Annual General Meeting proposing that the Association organize a voluntary boycott of the cards, and press the university to withhold data. Despite the meeting being quorate, the motion failed. In order to pass it needed 300 votes in favour, and obtained something like 280, with the other 20-something students being against or abstaining. Undeterred, the proposals were taken to others student representative bodies, but in each instance the representatives involved removed any mention of a boycott or withholding data before allowing the motion to pass. After a week of student bureaucracy, Edinburgh Student’s Association, at least officially, have little more than a mandate to complain about the government’s plans.
However, the campaign is not entirely dead and people within the representative bodies, as well as normal students, are keen to organize a boycot. Other activism, including communication with the Scottish Parliament, is also ongoing.
I now want to spend a bit of time analyzing the various possibilities. First, about a boycott. This is certainly the most effective tactic we could use at this level, but also the most risky and difficult. For a start, students are going to have to start, as of the 25th, reaching out to non-EU students who are planning to vary their leave to stay and make the case for a boycott. Quite how this is going to sound to them is another thing entirely. If students are unwilling to obtain ID cards, it seems reasonable to guess that they won’t be able to get UK Visas, making this a very high risk strategy on their part. Moreover, the risk will not be evenly shared among those who oppose the scheme, most being UK nationals. Another contention is how willing the currently keen student representatives will be to continue campaigning if students are risking extradition and legal penalization becomes a possibility. It’s quite easy to imagine splits happening in the now familiar formula.
Secondly, there is the ongoing Parliamentary activism. Given Holyrood’s complete lack of authority over this issue, and the fact that any decision making it would be outwidth their capacity to make, I don’t really see the point in continuing this. At best, it’s a noble way to start discussion among relatively small circles. At worst, it will degenerate into student reps currying favor with Parliamentarians (as the Id card scheme remains something the majority oppose) to no-one’s benefit but their own.
At this point I just want to reiterate that I’m not against resisting the scheme. How we could make a boycott successful is what I want to turn to now.
To start, it should be obvious that a boycott will never succeed if it’s limited to Edinburgh University students, especially since only a minority are likely to take the risks involved. This is going to take considerable activism across the country. To try to start this process going, Students Against the War and other concerned parties are organizing a meeting to bring together activists in Scotland who are concerned think it’s worth co-ordinating something on a national scale. We also want to connect with International students who are concerned about the issue and are considering boycotting the cards or want to help organize in other ways. The meeting will take place on the 26th (the day after the Glasgow protest) from 5pm in the Chaplaincy, which is at 1 Bristo Square, next to the Potterrow, in Edinburgh.
Second, even if this can be co-ordinated nationwide, we will probably need more support if it’s going to be successful. From this perspective, the hints of industrial action made by the airport worker’s union (BALPA) over the government’s ID card plans is heartening news. (9) Perhaps, by building solidarity with Unions working against the scheme we can build a more powerful movement.
So, the main points: • ID cards are a xenophobic imposition onto a vulnerable group, and represent the predictable ‘thin of the wedge’ tactics from Neo-Labour.
• Some attempts have been made at Edinburgh University to do something about this through official channels, but these have effectively prevented.
• There is still will to organize a boycott of the cards, if there are international students who would like to get involved.
• In order to have any measure of success, we need to co-ordinate nationally, which could start at the meeting on the 26th (details above). Further, there is an option establish links with BALPA, which may strengthen our mutual positions.
Hope that didn’t take too long. See you at the demo on the 25th. Would appreciate more ideas and comments (aside from the inevitable derision) in the comments.
(2) Defined in the 2007 Bill, available on http://www.opsi.gov.uk/.
(3) Same as 1, page 9.
(4) For information about the problems of contracted out services, see here: http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/content/view/411/88
(6) don’t believe me, ask the Commission for Racial Equality http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3809373.stm
(7) This is based on another report by the CRE. If you want it (there are problems linking to it but i can send you it) e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(8) For the normal liberal critiques see http://www.no2id.net/ and http://www.trevor-mendham.com/. More radical critiques are available here http://www.defy-id.org.uk/. The wikipedia page on British Identity cards also has quite a good section on concerns with the card.