The Home Office has unveiled a prototype ID card, a few weeks before the first cards will be issued to foreign migrants.
The credit-card sized ID card will have an electronic chip with biometric details of the holder, including fingerprints and a digital facial image.
From November 25, foreign nationals will have to apply for the cards when applying to stay in the UK. The cards will replace the current system, which involves the applicant getting a stamp or sticker in their passport when they are granted permission to stay.
In 2009 the cards will be issued to British and foreign nationals working in sensitive roles or locations, starting with airport workers. Young people will be targeted in 2010, and in 2011-2012, the government will "start to enrol British citizens at high volumes".
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, "ID cards for foreign nationals will replace old-fashioned paper documents, make it easier for employers and sponsors to check entitlement to work and study, and for the UK Border Agency to verify someone's identity. This will provide identity protection to the many here legally who contribute to the prosperity of the UK, while helping prevent abuse."