Immigration Screening Reduces Unwanted Visitors

Immigration screening reduces unwanted visitors

Friday August 25, 2006
By Angela Gregory
New Zealand Herald

The number of people denied boarding passes to fly to New Zealand has soared sixfold since the introduction of advance passenger screening three years ago.

Figures released by the Department of Labour show numbers rose from 113 in 2003-2004 to 680 in the last financial year.

Api Fiso, group manager for border security, said that increase had resulted in a drop in asylum seekers from 263 in the 2002-2003 to 87 in the last financial year.

“Screening offshore means reducing risks to New Zealand because people we don't want here don't even get the opportunity to arrive at our border.”

Mr Fiso said airlines ran the advance passenger processing to check people against Department of Labour databases and some Australian and United States records of lost and stolen passports. Where there was an alert to a possible problem, the airline was instructed to contact New Zealand immigration on a 24-hour phone where a decision was made on whether the person should be allowed to board.

Mr Fiso said the system was only used by New Zealand and Australia but other countries were considering similar moves. He said airlines had duties to run other checks like ensuring people visiting New Zealand had onward tickets, correct travel documents and sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay.

One airline, which he would not name, faced prosecution for non-compliance in allowing passengers to board flights for New Zealand who should have been declined. The department was also working with Pacific countries to improve their detection of fraud by third country nationals.

Mr Fiso said nearly 1500 people were also turned around at New Zealand airports because they did not meet entry requirements.

“This is a significant increase from the 2002-2003 year, where 331 people were declined entry.”

He said hundreds of thousands of people arrived at New Zealand borders each year to work or visit short-term, as well as people who migrated here permanently. Screening by Department of Labour staff took place upon arrival and immigration officers often relied on their “gut instinct” to put some travellers through extra scrutiny. They would interview people they had concerns about for character or other reasons.

Mr Fiso said travel document fraud was increasingly sophisticated and people who were determined to get into the country would go to any lengths to do so.

Matters could be made extremely difficult where passengers destroyed their travel documents during the flight and refused to state their nationality in order to avoid being returned to their home country.

Kevin Browne, border security technical adviser, said he used state of the art equipment to analyse about five passports each week at Auckland Airport.

On average one in five was forged.

Various light frequencies were shone on the passport paper to see if it was genuine, but it was more common for people to falsify genuine passports by changing the photo identification.

Mr Browne said face mapping could also be used to determine whether a passport was being used by the verified holder.