Migrants may be fingerprinted under future immigration changes

Proposed changes to the Immigration Act will enable biometric information such as fingerprints to be required before people can enter New Zealand.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe today unveiled planned changes to the Act following its review aimed at making it easier to get skilled people to come here, and to beef up security.

A bill would be introduced by April and the Government hoped it would be passed within a year with the backing of NZ First and Progressives.

"What we've got here is a 20-year-old piece of legislation that was written for quite a different world than we now live in and so -- after more than a year's work -- I think we are now in a position where we've got a future-proof world class legislative basis to work off," Mr Cunliffe said.

Mr Cunliffe said a purpose statement would be included in the Act, setting out key goals and giving the Immigration Service a more proactive role.

"We're going to have to compete harder with other countries to get the skills we want, we're going to have to be sharper about identifying the particular migrants that can best assist New Zealand and we're going to have to be more competitive about going out and finding and recruiting people we need."

Changes included a simplified visa system, delegation of ministerial discretion powers, a single appeal body, changes to detention and requirements on employers to ensure workers were here legally.

Mr Cunliffe said the bill would enable biometric information like fingerprints or iris scans to be collected but policy on this was not yet developed.

"I think it's a fair bet that over time the system will need to move to a biometric base."

Biometric information provided better security but also, if it was not adopted, it could affect New Zealanders' ability to travel in other countries in future, he said.

"We are going to be moving over time to a biometric base for all migration applicants.

"That will be an anchor, if you like, on a new much improved IT central nervous system for the Immigration Service that will be rolled out progressively over the next few years, subject to the budget process."

Mr Cunliffe said reducing the appeal bodies from four to one would slash the amount of time appeals took and save money.

Green MP Keith Locke said the existing system was "hardly a soft touch" and said the Refugee Status Appeals Authority rejected 80 per cent of complaints.

Mr Cunliffe said judicial reviews on points of law would still be possible.

Classified information would still be used but claimants would be given a summary and, if it was the basis of a decision, they could appeal.

"In the post-911 world I'm afraid it's a sad fact of life that we do need the ability to use some special information under certain limited circumstances."

The Minister of Immigration would be able to delegate some of his discretionary powers to officials -- at the moment 4000 cases a year landed on his desk.

Serious and complex cases would still go to the minister.

The bill would also allow for detention centres to be set up. Apart from the Mangere centre, at the moment there are no detention options except police cells.

Officials would have greater powers to detain people.

Mr Cunliffe said human rights protections were "beefed up" by including in domestic law the refugee convention, the convention against torture and covenant on civil and political rights.

The Government was not signing the stateless persons convention but was not ruling it out in future.

"There's the potential for there to be a very large expansion in the number of claims if we did this without full info."

Mr Locke said the changes were anti-immigration and put administrative convenience ahead of rights to natural justice and due process.

NZ First associate immigration spokesman Peter Brown said the changes went some way to addressing its misgivings but the party still had concerns about the number and type of migrants allowed into New Zealand.

The review was the first stage and would be followed by a policy review and operational changes.

The Government would make announcements early next year about settlement of immigrants.

- NZPA

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