Immigration Overhaul Clears Two Hurdles

Immigration overhaul clears two hurdles

The Dominion Post
Monday, 28 July 2008

The Labour Department has admitted New Zealand has fallen behind other countries in border security as it moves towards a major revamp of the Immigration Service's computer system.

The department issued a request for information from vendors on a new system at the same time the Immigration Bill – which would give Immigration the right to collect and use biometric data to identify non-citizens – cleared another hurdle in Parliament.

The bill has been reviewed by the transport and industrial relations select committee, which made several changes to the proposed legislation. These include giving people denied residency, refugee status or facing deportation the right to see a summary of allegations against them.

A new centralised software system, tipped to cost tens of millions of dollars, would enable the capture and use of biometric data, which is essential to ensure New Zealand's systems are compatible with those of other countries, the department says.

“Over recent years, New Zealand has fallen behind its neighbours and partners, most of whom have deployed enhanced security systems such as biometrics and new services such as automated border crossing.” A recent review by the auditor-general identified weaknesses in the department's ability to prevent and detect identity fraud by migrants.

Biometric information, such as fingerprints and face scans, will be used to improve identification.

In time, biometric checks could be conducted using the system before people depart for New Zealand, for example at overseas check-in points or departure immigration control points.

New Zealanders re-entering the country may have their identity checked prior to departure or on arrival, but this would be done using their e-passports which contain passengers' photos on a microchip.

“Biometric templates” of New Zealanders would not be kept in the system, says the department.

The system would allow some passengers to conduct automated, self-service border checks.

It would replace the 54 “disparate” databases – only some of which are connected – that the service uses to make immigration decisions, providing a “single view” of applicants' information.

Information sent to suppliers says the system will provide a number of online services to allow “low-risk” immigration transactions to be completed over the Internet, including online applications for visas.