China will start to collect fingerprints and capture facial images of foreign passport holders entering China at selected ports beginning on Feb 10 to tighten border security, a source in the Ministry of Public Security said on Feb 9.
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport will be among those using the new policy before it is rolled out in other areas.
Border control authorities nationwide will fingerprint all foreign passport holders ages 14 to 70 by the end of the year. In addition to fingerprints, biometric data will also be collected, said the ministry source, who requested anonymity.
Fingerprint collection devices have been installed at the Shenzhen airport, and signs indicating the new policy have been put up to inform foreign travelers, the source said.
People holding diplomatic passports or beneficiaries of reciprocal agreements will not be required to provide fingerprints.
The move is an important way to strengthen entry and exit control, the source said.
Collecting and storing the fingerprints of arriving foreigners is already an international practice in many other countries, including the United States and Japan.
Authorities will ensure that the new system is efficient and does not result in unnecessary delays, the ministry said.
“Fingerprinting foreigners can significantly reduce the number of people entering China illegally with other people’s passports. They may look like the pictures on the passports, but their fingerprints will never match the passport holder,” said Zhang Jie, a professor at People’s Public Security University who specializes in the study of exit and entry policies.
For regular travelers, the new system will shorten the time spent at border control because their identities can be quickly confirmed based on fingerprint information stored in the system, she said.
China has been focusing on further strengthening national security, and investing in the new system is a part of it, she said, adding that people entering China illegally are likely to work illegally and even get involved in criminal activities.
Foreign passport holders exited and entered China 76.3 million times last year, an increase of 47 percent from 2015. About 14.2 million who entered gave the reason as tourism, up by 72 percent from the previous year, according to data released by the ministry on Feb 9.
Border control authorities also caught 2,705 people exiting or entering China illegally last year, the ministry said.
“I don’t mind having my fingerprints collected at border control, because it is pretty common now,” said Michael Gall, a UK citizen who works in Beijing.
“I just hope authorities can inform foreigners in advance and let us know when busier airports in Beijing and Shanghai will implement the new policy.”