The design for the new identity card was unveiled by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today.
Each card will carry a picture and a chip holding the person's name and date of birth, fingerprint record and other biometric data.
It will also detail the holder's visa status and right to work.
The cards will be issued to foreign nationals from November and from next year to people working in airports and other high security jobs.
From 2011 everyone over the age of 16 applying for a passport will have their details added to a national identity register.
Ministers argue the cards will boost national security, tackle identity fraud, prevent illegal working and improve border controls.
But opponents say ID cards are unnecessary, costly and impinge liberty.
There are also fears about the security of personal data after a string of government data loss blunders.
Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said: "This week the Prime Minister said he doesn't do PR but clearly the Home Secretary wasn't listening.
"The public will yawn at yet another re-launch of this scheme and if the card came with loyalty points, we still wouldn't buy it.
"Picking on foreigners first is divisive politics; as costly to our race relations as our purses."
Earlier this week Home Office minister Meg Hillier was forced to row back after claiming ID cards could be issued to children as young as 14.Reuse content