CTH Bill Would Allow Minister To Require Biometric Data From Certain Visa Class Applicants

Friday 13 September 2019 @ 1.36 p.m. | Legal Research | Immigration

The Migration Amendment (Streamlining Visa Processing) Bill 2019 (Cth) (the “Bill”) is currently being considered by the Commonwealth Parliament. On 11 September 2019, the Bill passed the House of Representatives and was introduced to the Senate later on the same day. The Bill is sponsored by Mr David Coleman (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) and proposes to amend the Migration Act 1959 (Cth) (the “Act”).

An earlier version of the Bill was introduced in the previous session of Parliament, but lapsed on the dissolution of Parliament before the Federal Election.

Background

As outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum (“EM”), the amendments to the Act will “enable the Minister to specify groups of visa applicants who are required to provide one or more personal identifiers to make a valid application.”

Under the Act, biometrics are referred to as “personal identifiers” and includes individual physical characteristics, such as a facial image or a set of fingerprints, which can be digitised into a biometric template for automated storage and checking. The Bill's Explanatory Memorandum says that:

"Once ‘anchored‘ to a person’s biographic information, such as name, nationality and date of birth, a biometric adds significantly to verifying that a person is who they claim to be, and to linking an individual to security, law enforcement, and immigration information."

The amendments will provide a mechanism for the Minister to specify a group of visa applicants who must provide one or more specified personal identifiers in order to make a valid visa application. 

Why Are Changes Required?

The Bill's Explanatory Memorandum reveals that the Government believes there need to be changes to the current legislative framework in order to provide Departmental officers with "the tools to more effectively meet current threats" and to "keep pace with advances in biometric technology".  It says:

“Checks of personal identifiers against existing immigration data holdings, and the data holdings of Australian law enforcement agencies and Five Country Conference partner countries, have revealed undisclosed adverse immigration and criminal history information of non-citizens, and discrepancies in the biographic information provided by non-citizens.”

If passed, the amendments will allow the Federal Government to take advantage of these information holdings and overcome difficulties in requesting and obtaining personal identifiers from non-citizens, by requiring personal identifiers to be provided up front in the visa application process. These identifiers are more accurate than document-based checks of biographic details, such as name, date of birth and nationality. Obtaining personal identifiers in the application process promotes early detection and assessment of critical information.

It is noted that amendments to the Act are not designed to require all visa applicants to provide personal identifiers in order to make a valid visa application. 

Minister's Intention

In his second reading speech to the House of Representatives, the Minister said:

“The intention of these amendments is to enable the collection of personal identifiers to be a prerequisite to making a valid visa application. If an applicant refuses to provide their personal identifiers then they cannot make a valid visa application and cannot be considered for the grant of a visa. The measures provide a mechanism for the minister to specify a group of visa applicants who must provide one or more personal identifiers (also specified) to have a valid application … The groups of applicants would not include persons unable to provide certain personal identifiers, such as the collection of fingerprints from people with a permanent physical disability, resulting in the inability to collect fingerprints.”

Committee Report on Earlier Bill

A report tabled in February 2019 by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, who considered the earlier version of the Bill, noted that the Law Council of Australia questioned:

“… whether there was a 'clear link' between preventing terrorism and requiring visa applicants to provide personal identifiers as a condition of making a valid visa application … given applicants are already required to undergo personal identifier tests when their visa applications are being assessed, further justification is needed as to the necessity of requiring this information at the time of application.”

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

Sources:

Migration Amendment (Streamlining Visa Processing) Bill 2019 (Cth) - Bill, Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speeches available from TimeBase's LawOne Service 

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