New biometric residence permits for non European Union citizens are being introduced in Germany from tomorrow (Thursday 01 September).

The electronic chip cards are replacing the existing paper residence permits that are regarded as open to being faked. It is part of a general move to combat identity fraud and to comply with European Union rules.

Non-EU citizens living in Germany will only have to apply for a new card once their existing paper permit runs out. By 2021, all residence permits should be replaced by the electronic cards.

The new credit card sized permits will contain a biometric photo and two fingerprints. Cardholders will also be given an individual PIN code.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said that the new cards will cost €100 and like the current permits are available from local immigration offices across Germany.

Residents need to apply in person and will receive their new card within six weeks. Children from the age of six will be required to have their fingerprints taken and from the age of 10 will need to sign the application.

The cards will not be send out by post, meaning that all applicants, even children, will need to collect them in person from the immigration office. Philipp Spauschus, spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, said the authorities have to be convinced that the person making the application really exists.

The EU agreed in 2008 that all member states should introduce electronic residence permits to harmonize migration policy throughout the bloc.

Like the standard German identity cards, the new residence cards can be used on the Internet to take care of administrative procedures, as long as the cardholder is at least 16 years of age.

With the help of an electronic signature saved onto the chip, the cardholder can prove his or her identity online and then communicate with the relevant authorities. Those who want to use this function at home need a specially designed card reader, as well as the appropriate computer software, currently available in German and English.

The German Interior Ministry was forced to delay the introduction of the cards, originally planned for May, because of technical problems with the inbuilt chip.

Other countries due to introduce biometric identity cards soon include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Switzerland. The UK Border Agency already requires foreign nationals in most immigration categories to obtain a biometric residence permit that already meets the requirements of the new EU regulation.