Government acts to close border loopholes

By Angela Gregory

The Government is looking at tough new immigration rules that will make it harder to get into New Zealand and easier to kick people out.

Border inspection tools such as fingerprinting or eye scanning are among the proposals. Immigration officers may get greater powers to find and detain suspect visitors.

People who have been removed from other countries or who are considered a serious threat to public safety may be automatically expelled.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe yesterday outlined suggested changes to the Immigration Act 1987 which are being put out for public discussion.

Mr Cunliffe said it was part of a review of the immigration system to ensure New Zealand attracted skilled workers, had secure borders, and that migrants settled well here. He said the objectives were in the national interest and he hoped the "political football" of immigration could finally be punctured.

The 257-page Immigration Act Review Discussion Paper aimed to speed up and simplify systems by replacing various entry permits with visas and by combining all immigration appeal authorities into one body.

Potentially controversial suggestions included the increased use and storage of types of "biometric information" to crack down on identity fraud.

People entering New Zealand could be subject to fingerprinting, as is done in the United States, or even iris scanning. Limited voluntary DNA sampling was also a possibility.

Mr Cunliffe said many people lodged multiple immigration claims using different identities. Also, terrorists and criminals were becoming more sophisticated and New Zealand had to "have the jump ahead".

Greater powers were proposed for immigration officers, enabling them to detain people, in the absence of a police officer, and to verify and source information.

It was suggested in a "preferred option" that officers acquired the same powers of entry and search as police and customs to serve removal orders or enter and search aircraft or ships.

The delegation of ministerial powers to senior immigration officials to make exceptions to residence policy was also flagged.

A new system could strengthen the case for the automatic expulsion of people with criminal convictions, previous expulsions from other countries, or who were deemed to be a threat to public safety.

A single procedure for determining refugee status with just one right of appeal (any further challenge only available on points of law) was suggested.

Mr Cunliffe acknowledged the need for a balance between "good expeditious decision making" and the rights of individuals.

But he said in too many cases asylum seekers were buying time by relodging claims "on the way to the airport".

The discussion paper also raised the prospect of allowing classified information to be used in any immigration matter without it being released to the applicant.

Immigration and refugee lawyer Deborah Manning said such a move would "increase uncertainty and litigation".

National's immigration spokesman Dr Lockwood Smith said the review was "fantastically underwhelming".

Foreign Affairs Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the review formed an important part of his party's confidence and supply agreement with the Government.

"There is some irony in the fact that for some years now New Zealand First alone has front-footed this issue, copping flak from every quarter for doing so," he said. "At least it has resulted in concrete action."

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the review signalled an unfortunate extension of powers or arrest and detention, and intrusive surveillance, which would intrude on migrants' rights.


Tougher rules

Now
* Police may enter premises to serve orders, and only police or customs officers have power to search aircraft and ships for stowaways.

Proposed
* Immigration officers allowed to enter and search premises to serve removal orders.

Now
* Immigration officers have no powers to detain people or make arrests for immigration reasons.

Proposed
* Immigration officers could detain an individual at an airport for up to four hours until a police officer arrives.

Now
* New Zealand can not make immigration decisions using classified security information with the exception of part 4A of the Immigration Act relating to a security risk.

Proposed
* A person on a temporary permit could be refused residency on the basis of classified information which is not disclosed to them.

What next
* Comments to be received by June 14 2006
* Aim to introduce bill to Parliament 2007

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