Part 3: Integrity and probity within Immigration New Zealand

Inquiry into immigration matters (Volume 1): Visa and permit decision-making and other issues.

Specific incidents and allegations of a lack of integrity within Immigration New Zealand prompted this inquiry. Most of the allegations related to senior managers, including the former Deputy Secretary (Workforce) in charge of Immigration New Zealand, Mary Anne Thompson.

We decided to make the scope of our inquiry wider than the specific allegations that had been raised. We did so because we wanted to provide assurance about the overall integrity and probity of immigration decision-making. We looked in detail at the behaviour and operating practices within 10 Immigration New Zealand branches, both here and overseas. We gained our information through extensive interviews with management and frontline staff who make visa and permit decisions, relevant documentation reviews, and examining a sample of visa and permit decisions made in each branch.

We expected Immigration New Zealand staff responsible for making or supervising visa and permit decisions to act with appropriate integrity and probity, and in keeping with accepted public sector ethical standards. This includes adhering to established standards of integrity and conduct (including codes of conduct), avoiding or appropriately managing conflicts of interest, and not carrying out any activities that are fraudulent, corrupt, or dishonest.

In this Part, we set out our findings about:

Organisational attitudes and behaviour

Generally, Immigration New Zealand staff act with integrity and probity when making visa and permit decisions. A reluctance by staff to raise workplace concerns needs to be addressed by the Department.

Getting approval to migrate to New Zealand, or even just visit, is highly prized by many people from other nations. In some cases, applicants will try to influence or bribe Immigration Officers and Visa Officers to gain a visa or permit. This is an integrity risk associated with the work of Immigration New Zealand staff that cannot be eliminated. It means that the standard expected of staff is high – they must always act with integrity and probity.

Staff integrity and probity

The staff we interviewed and observed at work in Immigration New Zealand branches were generally conscientious about their jobs, honest, and keen to act in good faith. We identified no widespread integrity and probity problems with the frontline staff who carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of assessing more than half a million visa and permit applications each year. This is reassuring, given the public and high-profile integrity allegations that influenced our decision to carry out an inquiry.

The allegations made about the integrity of senior Immigration New Zealand management, especially the former Deputy Secretary (Workforce), have understandably deeply disappointed many of the staff we spoke with. These events have represented to many staff a surprising failure by senior managers to lead by example and uphold the standards expected of staff.

Reluctance of staff to raise concerns

The Department has a policy for investigating staff fraud, corruption, and dishonesty. The policy, called “Facing Up”, contains the expectation that staff report immediately any suggestions of fraud, corruption, or dishonesty. In addition, and as required by the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 (the “whistle-blowing” legislation), the Department has a protected disclosures policy for reporting allegations of serious wrongdoing.

The Department also has processes for raising concerns about any integrity matters or serious wrongdoing. However, in our view, it needs to look at how staff can raise more general work-related concerns. During our interviews with branch staff, we were often advised of work-related concerns that had not been raised within the Department for consideration. They included concerns about recruitment and promotion, inconsistent policy application by staff, and visa and permit decisions made by other staff. Although the concerns raised with us were not, in most cases, serious, and may not have raised questions of fraud, corruption, or dishonesty, we were concerned that staff either did not know the process for raising concerns or had little confidence in the existing process.

Further, many staff from frontline officers through to senior managers told us that they believed talking to us was their only avenue to raise concerns about their workplace. These staff members felt they could not raise concerns internally within the Department. Some staff believed that talking to us as external reviewers might be detrimental to their immigration careers. We also heard that other staff had chosen not to talk to us because of similar fears about the possible effect on their jobs.

This is an unsatisfactory and unacceptable situation for staff. The Department urgently needs to address this aspect of its workplace culture. Immigration New Zealand staff must be able to raise concerns about management or other aspects of their workplace without any fear of repercussions.

3.12 In our view, the Department needs to assess how easily and safely staff can raise work-related concerns internally, and whether the existing policies are sufficient to cover the range of concerns that an employee may wish to address. It may be informative to survey staff on their views about this.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that the Department of Labour assess whether it has effective internal policies and processes in place for staff to safely raise work-related concerns.

Concerns about internal recruitment

Many staff told us that some internal appointments had not been made fairly and openly. They claimed that this resulted in the promotion of less suitable candidates ahead of more competent or experienced colleagues. The concerns most commonly involved appointments made by several branch managers (who have a significant role in recruiting staff). While we did not examine particular appointments within branches, we noted that similar comments were made to us in several Immigration New Zealand branches and units.

We suggest the Department assess the prevalence of staff dissatisfaction about recruitment to identify if any changes to internal recruitment practices are necessary. This might involve modifying aspects of the recruitment process, increasing the information provided to staff, or improving the workplace culture to encourage staff to raise concerns they may have about particular appointments.

Code of conduct awareness

Generally, staff were aware of and understood the code of conduct requirements.

We expected Immigration New Zealand to help ensure that staff act with integrity and probity when making visa and permit decisions by providing staff with effective training and guidance about the code of conduct requirements.

Immigration New Zealand has a detailed and clear code of conduct for staff involved in making visa and permit decisions. Branch staff we met were aware of and understood the importance of the code of conduct requirements.

In the branches we visited, Immigration New Zealand provided code of conduct training and regularly reminded staff about code of conduct expectations. Sensibly, most branches provided code of conduct training to new staff as part of induction training immediately after they started work in the branches. However, there were a couple of instances where new staff were not given code of conduct training immediately after they started work. This is not ideal, because it raises the risk that new employees might breach the code of conduct through ignorance. For example, we were told that a new officer in a branch looked up information about colleagues and friends in a database used to store information about people entering or leaving New Zealand. The employee was unaware that this was a serious breach of conduct because they had not yet been trained in the code of conduct requirements.

In our view, the Department needs to consider introducing a system to ensure that all staff involved in making visa and permit decisions regularly complete written declarations that they are aware of, and understand, their code of conduct obligations.

Identifying and managing conflicts of interest

Immigration New Zealand staff understood the importance of declaring any potential conflicts of interest.

Frontline staff in the branches we visited were well aware of the importance of declaring any potential conflicts of interest they may have with visa or permit applicants (or with agents representing clients). Several, but not all, of the branches used registers to formally record declared conflicts of interest. In our view, using registers should be standard practice.

Procedures for dealing with conflict of interest declarations were generally clearly set out and well understood in branches. Typically, but not always, responsibility for assessing, deciding, or checking an application was transferred to another branch when there was a known conflict of interest.

We were not aware of any reviews by branch managers or others of declared conflicts of interest to ensure that staff did not later become involved in those applications or decisions. Similarly, there was no functionality within the computer system used for processing and storing visa and permit applications to prevent staff members who have declared a conflict of interest with specific applicants from accessing information about those applicants. In our view, the Department needs to consider including this functionality in any upgrades to its computer system.

Investigating allegations of misconduct

The Department has a specialist unit, and systems in place, to investigate misconduct allegations.

The nature of Immigration New Zealand’s work means that serious allegations are sometimes made about how visa and permit decisions are made. Therefore, it is important for the Department to have systems in place to investigate allegations of misconduct.

The Department has an internal investigations unit within its Executive branch to investigate allegations of staff theft, fraud, conflicts of interest, and corruption. The most common claims are allegations that Immigration Officers or Visa Officers have treated particular applications favourably.

The Department investigates all allegations it receives. Figure 5 provides some statistics on the allegations the Department received about Immigration New Zealand in the five years to June 2008. The statistics show that a large number of allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.

Figure 5
Immigration New Zealand's internal investigation statistics, 2003/04 to 2007/08

Year Allegations
Allegations substantiated Allegations
unable to be
Dishonesty Performance
2003/04 97 73 16 8 0
2004/05 125 82 27 16 0
2005/06 116 78 22 8 8
2006/07 109 70 20 8 11
2007/08 86* 43 16 2 18

* This includes seven investigations that were still under way at the time of our audit.
Source: Department of Labour.

Of the substantiated allegations each year, many of them were for what the Department categorised as dishonesty – where staff were found to have acted without authority or used deceit. A smaller number of substantiated allegations were performance matters, where staff had failed to carry out a task, instruction, control, or procedure as required. Some allegations cannot be substantiated because they involve cases of reported losses of money or items where the investigation had not found evidence that the losses occurred in branches or were because of staff dishonesty.

Although substantiated allegations of misconduct are always of concern, the Department does have systems in place to investigate allegations when they arise, and to take appropriate action.

We did not specifically examine the operations of the investigations unit, except where we read the relevant investigation reports relating to individual visa and permit decisions that we reviewed. However, the Department has commissioned independent quality assurance reviews of its internal investigation processes. This includes a contract started in 2008 for external quality assurance of the Department's process for responding to allegations. The contract is for assurance “as and when required”. In our view, this is a useful arrangement to provide assurance about the quality of the investigation unit’s work.

page top