Priti Patel threatening to use X-rays to verify asylum seekers’ ages

Nationality and borders bill would allow for ‘scientific’ measuring of bones or taking of DNA samples

Priti Patel is threatening to X-ray migrants suspected of lying about their age and impose visa penalties on countries that do not cooperate with deportations of their own citizens, under newly announced plans.

The nationality and borders bill would give the government the power to use “scientifically verifiable” measurements of bones or take DNA samples to check the age of people who are seeking to live in the UK.

Reports have claimed that officials hope to take X-rays of forearm bones, which are said to be the most accurate method to estimate the maturity of a child’s skeletal system. The government is also considering using a method called DNA methylation to estimate the age of claimants.

Officials claim it would bring Britain into line with other EU countries and the US, which use similar methods, including dental X-rays, to check migrants’ ages. But previous proposals to use dental X-rays to verify the age of migrants have provoked an outcry from doctors and dentists who say they are inaccurate and that it is unethical to take radiographs of people without a health benefit.

The Home Office claims most asylum seekers who say they are children are adults.

Under a series of amendments, Patel is expected to also include powers to suspend visas entirely, impose a £190 surcharge to come to Britain, or increase visa processing times for countries who refuse to take back their own citizens.

Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and the Philippines are reported to be the countries most reluctant to cooperate with the UK.

“We rightly expect our international partners to work with us to remove those who have no right to be in the UK, such as dangerous foreign national offenders,” Patel said in a statement. “It is unfair on UK citizens and taxpayers that pressure is put on our public services by foreign nationals with no legal right to be here … I will continue to take the difficult action needed to fix our broken asylum system and deliver on what the British people want – full control of our borders.”

Under the legislation, foreign criminals would also be eligible for removal from Britain up to 12 months before the end of their custodial sentence, compared with the previous nine months, the government said.

The government also plans to expand the types of claims that can be dealt with in an accelerated appeal from detention, so that more cases can be resolved before a person is released into the community.

The US requests that foreign governments take appropriate steps when it comes to deportations and removals. Any lack of cooperation from the nation of origin would in many cases result in visa sanctions, which can vary in severity.

At the beginning of the month, the EU temporarily suspended the application of certain provisions in the visa code to nationals from the Gambia. The decision was taken due to the country’s lack of cooperation on readmission of third-country nationals illegally staying in the EU.

Over the coming week, the government is also expected to introduce legislation to establish an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) scheme. Once introduced, carriers will have to check that all passengers except British and Irish citizens have a digital authorisation or some other form of permission before they can travel to the UK.


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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