New Zealand unveils updated immigration and border control policies

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All travelers to New Zealand could soon be subjected to American-style requirements to supply biometric data upon their arrival under changes to New Zealand's immigration laws.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe confirmed that the new Immigration Act would contain provisions giving immigration officials the power to require the collection, storage, and use of biometric information from non-citizens "engaged with the immigration process."

That could include anyone applying for a tourist, temporary or residency visa - similar to what the United States already requires at its ports of entry.

The new bill will also include provisions for the collection and use of "limited" biometric data from New Zealand citizens at the border, although it does not say why. Biometric data includes electronic fingerprints and iris scans, which are stored indefinitely on a central computer database.

Mr. Cunliffe said, however, that no decisions had yet been taken on how or when the powers to gather biometric information would be used, or whether it would apply to all visitors to New Zealand.

A further requirement that DNA samples be taken had been dropped from a draft of the legislation, Mr. Cunliffe said.

The biometric provision is one of 61 new provisions in the bill, which Mr. Cunliffe said would significantly tighten New Zealand's borders and streamline immigration processing while still protecting immigrants' civil and international human rights.

Other key changes include a new integrated visa system, a single appeal for would-be-refugees, the ability to deport new New Zealand citizens with fewer than five years' residency, a graduated system of time-limited bans on re-entry to New Zealand, and the use of data-matching between immigration and social service agencies.

Immigration officials will also be allowed to make greater use of classified information, which is currently restricted to security risk certificates issued against migrants considered to be a risk to national security.

Under the new legislation, classified information can be used in any visa, protection, or deportation decision where national or international security, criminal conduct, or "significant reputational issues for New Zealand" apply.

Mr. Cunliffe denied the bill represented an erosion of civil liberties, saying new safeguards had been built into the legislation, including the right of applicants to request a summary of information held on them, an appeal to a three-person panel of judges, and new requirements for officials to consult with the minister before exercising some of their powers.

Mr. Cunliffe said the new legislation would still provide refugee claimants with the full protection of the law, but would not allow them to spend years in the country indulging in a series of appeals.

"We will have a robust new international protection regime, a world-class independent appeals system and a model detention system that will uphold human rights and high standards of fairness.

"The world has changed since the current act was introduced in 1987, with competition for skills intensifying and new security issues arising."

Mr. Cunliffe said the Government had enough votes to get the bill through the New Zealand Parliament. The legislation is intended to be introduced around April 2007, and would hopefully be passed by 2008.

Most westernized nations are updating passport and visa laws to include use of biometric data. The United Kingdom and Australia are currently considering or developing programs for national identity cards that use the technology, also.


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