Heat Goes On Immigration Boss

Heat goes on Immigration boss

The Dominion Post
Saturday, 19 April 2008

Immigration Service head Mary-Anne Thompson is under mounting pressure after her chief executive did not express confidence in her over revelations that three of her relatives wrongly got New Zealand residency.

Labour Department boss Christopher Blake confirmed yesterday that a high-powered investigation was begun over irregularities in how residency was approved.

Ms Thompson personally helped three members of her extended family from Kiribati fill in their forms, and signed her name on the forms as having helped them.

The irregularities were discovered in a routine audit in 2007, two years after the applications had been dealt with.

The department has confirmed that residency was never revoked, despite a finding that the three people involved would not have been granted residency if the usual processes had been followed.

The inquiry, by former secretary of justice David Oughton, led to a staff member being disciplined.

Ms Thompson was counselled by former department chief executive James Buwalda. No further action resulted against her.

But new chief executive Mr Blake, asked if he had confidence in her, would only respond in writing that the matter had been dealt with and he was “working with Mary-Anne Thompson to ensure she can do her job effectively”.

Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove has confirmed raising “concerns” with Ms Thompson's superiors when the matter came to his attention last year. He would not comment further as it was an “operational” matter.

It has emerged that she twice sought help from immigration officers, in December 2004 and May 2005, for travel by family members from Kiribati to New Zealand.

Visa waivers were granted on both occasions.

In late 2005, members of the same family sought residence permits and she helped them complete the application form, signing her name to the forms as doing so.

The department has confirmed the applications would not have been approved if normal procedures had been followed, as they were lodged late and the quota for residency applications had already been filled.

“Subsequently, disciplinary action was taken against the staff member who made that decision outside their delegated authority.”

Mr Oughton concluded Ms Thompson had not ever sought to influence the applications' outcome.

The chief executive counselled her, however, “about the appropriateness of someone in her position being formally associated with any particular immigration application on this occasion and in the future”.

Ms Thompson refused to comment last night.