An immigration adviser is accusing Immigration New Zealand of asking employers of visa applicants to breach privacy laws in its request for private information of non-applicant employees without their authorisation.
In a letter to the employer of a visa applicant, an INZ officer asked for a detailed list of staff members and their positions held.
It also asked for names, nationalities and date of births of others on temporary visas and details of workers who may be applying for residence.
The employer was also asked for authorisation to allow the agency to share this information with other Government agencies, including Inland Revenue.
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Adviser Harris Gu of TDA Immigration has written to the Immigration Minister asking whether he was aware that the agency was "asking NZ employers to breach the Privacy Act".
INZ operations support manager Michael Carley however said an immigration officer was legally able to request any information they considered necessary to process and make a decision on an application.
"It is up to the employer to determine whether or not they are willing to provide the information requested," Carley said.
INZ wrote a letter on October 9, 2019, advising the employer that an employee had applied for a visa to be in New Zealand.
"His employment with your company forms the basis of his claim of employment in New Zealand," the letter said.
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The agency requested the employer to complete and return a questionnaire and provide the private information to progress the matter.
"There is no information in the questionnaire stating that the employer must obtain authorisation from the non-applicants to have their information shared with INZ," Gu said.
"To make matters worse, INZ asked the employer for authority so that it could 'make any enquiries it deemed necessary' and also 'share this information with other Government agencies'."
Gu accused INZ of being "wilfully blind" to New Zealand's privacy laws.
According to the Privacy Act 1993, an agency could not collect personal information through unlawful means.
An agency could only collect such information "directly from the individual concerned", it stated, unless it believed on reasonable grounds that the individual has authorised the collection of his or her personal information from someone else.
"INZ did not try to collect the information from the individuals concerned and has no reason to believe the authority has been given to the employer," Gu said.
"The employer initially got the employees' personal information because it was required under the Employment Relations Act, and there is no reasonable grounds for them to be disclosed to INZ.
"If the disclosure is made, the employer would be in breach of this principle."
In his letter, Gu asked the Minister to direct INZ to amend the questionnaire and others that had similar requests.
Carley confirmed that the Minister's officer had referred the letter to INZ for a response.
"INZ is disappointed that it has not been given the opportunity to fully consider and respond to the letter before it has been raised through the media," he said.
Carley said it would be inappropriate for INZ to litigate this issue through the media while a response was being considered.
"We intend to respond formally to Mr Gu in due course," Carley said.