Part 5: Quality of immigration decisions

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

In this Part, we set out our findings about:

To process more than half a million visa and permit applications every year, Immigration Officers and Visa Officers need to assess applications against policy requirements, verify the accuracy of information provided by applicants, and process applications within reasonable timeframes. Weaknesses in any of these areas could have a detrimental effect on the quality of visa and permit decisions. Therefore, systems need to be in place for Immigration New Zealand to be assured of the quality of visa and permit decisions.

We expected staff to adhere to Immigration New Zealand policy and process requirements when assessing visa and permit applications. Policy requirements for assessing visa and permit applications should be applied consistently between branches. We expected any deviations from standard policy requirements to be specified and approved by a staff member with the appropriate delegated authority, or to be within the scope of any permissible discretion.

Quality of the visa and permit decisions that we reviewed

Nearly two-thirds of the visa and permit decisions that we reviewed were of a good quality. However, just over one-fifth of the decisions we reviewed were either questionable or poor, based on the supporting evidence available to us. Overall, the quality of decisions made was better in most offshore branches we reviewed than it was in many onshore branches.

How we reviewed and evaluated the quality of decisions

We reviewed visa and permit decisions made in each branch we visited during our inquiry. We selected a random sample from a stratified population1 of all visa and permit applications decided in the 2007 and 2008 financial years. Our sample was not chosen to be statistically representative of the population. Therefore, our results do not provide estimates that can be applied to all visa and permit decisions. The results for the branches we visited are presented in Figure 8.

We also received many submissions for our inquiry. Some of these included complaints or concerns about specific visa and permit decisions. We examined these decisions where they were relevant to our inquiry terms of reference. The results for these decisions are presented in Figure 9.

We also selected some individual visa and permit decisions in permit categories that were of particular interest to us, and these are also included in Figure 9. This sample included decisions from:

  • the Residual Pacific Access Category Places Policy for citizens of Kiribati, Tonga, and Tuvalu;2
  • the Residual Quota Places Policy for Samoan citizens; and
  • residence permits granted under section 35A of the Act (which can be used to grant a person unlawfully in New Zealand a permit in certain circumstances).3

We examined, for each visa or permit decision in our sample, the notes and documentation in the AMS and in physical files. This was to assess whether:

  • processes followed to make the decisions complied with policy and process requirements as stated in Immigration New Zealand’s operational manual and other relevant guidance; and
  • the decision was suitably explained and supported by the documentation and supporting evidence.

We grouped the findings from our reviews into four categories. Figure 6 explains these categories and the criteria used to assign individual visa or permit decisions to them.

Figure 6
Assessment categories used for grouping the sample of visa and permit decisions that we reviewed

Good quality decision The documentation was complete and had been reviewed, process steps were complete, the AMS and file records explained the immigration decision, policies were complied with, and the decision was expected given the information in the file.
Adequate decision There were minor process or documentation discrepancies or gaps, but these were not significant to the decision. The decision was consistent with the AMS and file records.
Questionable decision There was a lack of documentation to the extent that we could not determine if immigration policy had been followed, or if every process step had been followed (for example, the requirement to assess state of health and character, or to put potentially prejudicial information to the applicant). There may have been inadequate consideration given to immigration risk, or the applicant’s previous immigration history. There may have been inadequate verification performed. In summary, we were unable to conclude that the decision was made in keeping with policy and process requirements.
Poor decision This category included cases where the decision was not made in keeping with policy and process requirements, or was unexpected based on our review of the supporting evidence.

The quality of the decisions in our sample

The analysis below does not include any evaluation of the risk assessment used to decide what work to carry out in assessing an application, or which officer to assign to the case. The branches had no standard approach to assigning or assessing visa and permit applications based on risk, so any comparison of results would be meaningless.

We also did not assess whether the officer making a decision had the required delegation because the information on delegations was not readily available.

Overall results for all visa and permit decisions we reviewed

Overall, nearly two-thirds of the visa and permit decisions4 that we examined were of a good quality (see Figure 7). This included many instances where we found careful and diligent assessments by Immigration Officers and Visa Officers that were well documented and logically explained how they had reached their decisions to approve or decline applications.

However, in our assessment just over one-fifth (21%) of all the visa and permit decisions we reviewed were either questionable or poor.

Figure 7
Assessed quality of all visa and permit decisions that we reviewed

Category Number of decisions in this category %
Good quality decision 287 66
Adequate decision 59 13
Questionable decision 60 14
Poor decision 30 7
Total 436 100

Of the 436 decisions that we reviewed, more detailed information about our assessment of 389 is presented in Figure 8. Figure 9 presents more detailed information about our assessment of the remaining 47 decisions.

Comparing results between offshore and onshore Service Delivery branches and Pacific Division branches

Figure 8 provides a more detailed breakdown of the 389 decisions that we selected to review in the branches we visited. They are broadly grouped into whether the officer who made the decision was in an onshore Service Delivery branch or the IPG branch5, an offshore Service Delivery branch, or in the Pacific Division branches we visited. The results for these three groups varied significantly.

We note that factors other than branch location affected the quality of the decisions. These factors included the operating environment and procedures, and the skills of managers.

Overall, the quality of visa and permit decisions we examined was higher in the offshore Service Delivery branches. We considered 85% of the decisions in our sample from these branches to be good quality decisions. The equivalent proportions for onshore Service Delivery branches and IPG, and the Pacific Division, were 69% and 40% respectively.

Figure 8
Assessed quality of 389 visa and permit decisions we reviewed, by broad groups of branch location

Offshore Service Delivery branches Onshore Service Delivery branches and IPG Pacific Division
Number % Number % Number %
Good quality decision 112 85 118 69 35 40
Adequate decision 15 11 22 13 15 17
Questionable decision 2 2 22 13 29 33
Poor decision 3 2 8 5 8 9
Total 132 100 170 100 87 100

Note: Because of rounding, percentages may not add up to 100.

Results for individual visa and permit decisions of particular interest to us

Figure 9 summarises our findings for the 47 visa and permit decisions that were either brought to our attention by submitters to our inquiry or were taken from the residual places quota categories and used section 35A of the Act (we explain the significance of the quotas in Part 6, and section 35A of the Act later in this Part).

These 47 decisions were identified at least in part because quality concerns had already been raised or were suspected. We expected to find a higher incidence of quality concerns, and we did. There were problems with many of these decisions, including significant problems with nearly a quarter (23%) of them. In our view, another 15% of the decisions were questionable.

Figure 9
Assessed quality of 47 visa and permit decisions we reviewed, of particular interest to us

Number %
Good quality decision 22 47
Adequate decision 7 15
Questionable decision 7 15
Poor decision 11 23
Total 47 100

The influence of quantity targets and application backlogs on the quality of visa and permit decisions

Strong emphasis on meeting quantity targets in some branches can have a detrimental effect on the quality of visa and permit decisions. Substantial backlogs of visa or permit applications may have contributed to this problem.

Quantity targets for processing visa and permit applications

Funding branches based on the number of visa and permit decisions

Immigration New Zealand branches are funded based on the number of visa or permit decisions they make in a year. An Immigration Fees Model is used to calculate how many fulltime equivalent employees are required. This takes into account both the estimated average time taken to process different visa or permit types (for example, visitor visas or work permits) and the number of applications by type that each branch is forecast to decide. These forecasts are linked to achieving annual residence targets set by the Government. The Department also monitors the number and timeliness of visa and permit decisions made by the branches.

Meeting targets for the number of visa or permit decisions made is therefore an operational focus of branches. The expectation that targets will be met flows down through the staff tiers. Branch managers are expected to meet their forecast numbers of visa or permit applications decided each month for their branches. In turn, immigration managers6 (the next level of branch management) are expected to meet targets for their teams. Finally, Immigration Officers and Visa Officers are usually set targets for the number of applications they are expected to decide.

Targets can be a useful and objective way for an organisation to monitor workflow and staff performance. However, the quantity of visa and permit decisions needs to be carefully balanced with maintaining the quality of decisions. In our view, an excessive focus on meeting targets for the number of visa and permit decisions made has had a detrimental effect on the quality of the decisions and, in some branches, on staff morale.

Emphasis on quantity targets varies between branches

The emphasis placed on targets in branches was strongly influenced by the attitudes of branch management. Some branch managers rigorously monitored how many visa or permit decisions their staff were making. In some branches, achieving the targets was a performance measure in the individual performance agreements of Immigration Officers and Visa Officers and their managers. In some of those branches, failing to achieve the targets was viewed as a significant staff performance issue.

In other branches, management focused more on the timeliness of decision-making by staff, or ensuring that the quality of decisions was not compromised by the quantity targets.

Negative aspects of too much emphasis on quantity targets

We noticed that the branches with the strongest emphasis on quantity targets also tended to have poorer staff morale. Staff told us that the pressure to meet targets meant that they either had or had felt pressure to:

  • reduce the amount of assessment they did of applications, including reducing the work they carried out to verify applicants’ stated circumstances;
  • decrease how well they documented how they had reached their decisions to approve or decline applications; and
  • select straightforward applications to work on while neglecting the complicated applications that require greater assessment effort.

These are worrying admissions by staff. A risk they also present – one that some staff we spoke with allege already occurs – is that staff under pressure to meet quantity targets have greater incentive to approve visas and permits than decline them. People who are granted a visa or permit to enter or stay in New Zealand are highly unlikely to challenge that decision. It takes more work to fairly and fully assess an application (including contacting applicants about any potentially prejudicial information in their applications) than it does to simply approve an application.

Assessing the complexity of applications varied between branches

Branches have varying practices and levels of sophistication in screening applications for complexity before allocating them to officers. In some branches, Immigration Officers or Visa Officers are simply required to manage a set caseload of applications and meet set targets for deciding applications by the type of visa or permit. New applications are allocated to them as they complete cases, without any screening of the level of complexity and work those applications could require.

In other branches, various procedures were in place to assess the risk level or complexity of different applications before they were allocated. Higher-risk applications were assumed to require more time to assess, and the quantity targets for individual staff were adjusted according to the complexity of the applications they were assessing. Targets varied significantly between the branches we visited, even though staff were often doing essentially the same types of work.

Reviewing the role of targets would be useful

Reviewing the role of quantity targets used in branches could usefully provide direction to branches to ensure that the targets set are realistic and achievable. Any review should consider how quantity targets can affect the quality and timeliness of decisions.

Recommendation 8
We recommend that the Department of Labour review the emphasis on target setting in Immigration New Zealand branches to ensure that the quality of visa and permit decisions is not compromised.

The effect of backlogs on the quality of decisions

Pressure on branch staff to meet targets can be exacerbated by the prevalence of substantial backlogs of visa or permit applications to be processed. Trying to address backlogs can also create pressure on staff, self-imposed or from management, to decide applications with less scrutiny than staff would otherwise prefer. We noticed that the branches with large application backlogs tended to have weaker staff morale.

There were substantial backlogs in several of the branches we examined. For example, one onshore branch had – at the time of our visit in September 2008 – more than 2000 temporary permit and 700 permanent entry applications waiting to be assigned for processing by staff. At another branch, some permanent entry applications lodged in 2005 had not yet been assigned to a staff member. There were also delays of nearly six months for final approval of decided applications because of a backlog in quality assurance checks.

We found no single systemic issue or explanation for the substantial backlogs in some branches. For some branches, there had been unexpectedly high growth in the number of applications lodged. In other branches, we considered that weaknesses in how queues of applications were managed and how work was prioritised were contributing to the backlogs.

Lack of a standard approach to tackle application backlogs has sometimes compromised decision quality

Immigration New Zealand does not have a standard approach to manage the workflow for application backlogs, so branches have created their own. Some of the branches’ initiatives have, in our view, compromised the quality of visa and permit decisions.

For example, the Christchurch and Sydney branches used an unsanctioned initiative called Project Crusade during part of 2008 to clear a substantial backlog of temporary visa and permit applications. It involved using application assessment procedures that were inconsistent with the policy requirements set out in Immigration New Zealand’s operational manual (see Figure 10).

Figure 10
An initiative, created by a branch, to reduce backlogs

Project Crusade
Project Crusade was an initiative created in Immigration New Zealand’s Christchurch branch to clear a substantial backlog of temporary permit applications. It involved staff applying a set of guidelines that reduced the scrutiny and verification normally carried out on such applications. For example, some of the easing of the requirements contained in Immigration New Zealand’s operational manual included:
  • work permit applicants who provided inadequate evidence of their experience or qualifications were granted a two-year permit, with a letter informing them that their background had been accepted on face value;
  • work permit applicants with incomplete job offers were still approved, with a letter telling them that job contracts must comply with New Zealand legislation;
  • applicants who were required to provide evidence of a medical assessment for their permit were granted a 12-month permit and told to provide the evidence of a medical assessment later; and
  • applicants for a visitor permit who had not provided adequate evidence of funds (to support their stay in the country) were accepted anyway.
Project guidelines instructed staff to identify in the AMS that applications had been approved under Project Crusade parameters.

Review of Project Crusade

Project Crusade operated between April and July 2008. It was halted after an anonymous letter to a newspaper criticising the project prompted the Department to order a review of all decisions under the project. In total, 1770 temporary permits were identified from notes in the AMS to have been decided under Project Crusade. Most of these were decided by the Christchurch branch.

The review identified that 370 (21%) of the 1770 applications decided under Project Crusade needed remedial work. The applications for all 370 were reassessed. The Department told us that the managers involved were held accountable for not adhering to the expected quality standards.

Recommendation 9
We recommend that the Department of Labour review the workflow management for, and prepare standard approaches to, dealing with backlogs of applications for visas and permits.

Risk assessment and profiling

Immigration New Zealand’s online client risk methodology, was designed to standardise and co-ordinate risk profiling, but is seldom used by staff. Instead, branches have prepared their own risk profiles that they use to assess the risks presented by applicants. The risk assessment and profiling used to inform visa and permit decisions varied considerably between branches and needs to improve.

Risks in making visa and permit decisions

There is always an element of risk in making visa and permit decisions. People might present false or misleading information to gain entry or the right to stay here. There is also a risk that people will breach the terms and conditions of visas or permits they have been granted. At the extreme end of a risk continuum, some people might present a risk to New Zealand’s security or international reputation if they were granted entry.

Immigration Officers and Visa Officers must manage these types of risk every day when they are assessing visa and permit applications. This is often a demanding task. As well as checking that applications are complete and comply with immigration policy, officers also need to assess the credibility of applicants and be satisfied that the evidence provided is genuine.

Differences in assessing permanent and temporary entry applications

There is an important difference between the types of judgement required by Immigration Officers and Visa Officers when deciding permanent or temporary entry visas and permits. In general, permanent entry assessments involve verifying the authenticity of evidence of past behaviour. For example, an officer assessing an application for someone to migrate here as a skilled migrant must be satisfied of such things as the validity of their qualifications and past work experience.

In contrast, assessing temporary entry applications requires officers to make judgements about the future behaviour of applicants. For example, considering if there is a risk that a visitor might illegally overstay. This is the area where the use of judgement and balancing different factors can result in different officers correctly assessing an application as being within policy yet they may reach different conclusions.

Using profiles to identify and consider risks

Immigration Officers and Visa Officers are required to follow risk profiling procedures when assessing visa and permit applications. Risk profiling is the identification of individual characteristics which, when combined, might indicate a greater chance of a specific outcome. Risk profiling can help maintain the consistency of decisions by guiding officers’ judgement. Immigration Officers and Visa Officers use risk profiling to determine how much effort is required for the assurance processes they should use with a particular application and the accompanying information.

Organisation-wide co-ordination of risk assessment

The client risk methodology

The co-ordination of risk profiling guidance for all Immigration New Zealand branches has been largely limited to the availability since 2006 of an online client risk methodology. The aim of the client risk methodology is to guide Immigration Officers and Visa Officers in assessing the risk of applicants. It was intended that the client risk methodology would consolidate best practice throughout Immigration New Zealand for assessing an applicant’s risk against the value that applicant could offer if they were granted entry.

Clients’ risk and value profiles are included in the AMS and cover identity, character, employability, and settlement. The client risk methodology is designed to automatically activate risk and value assessments at different stages of the application process. These prompt “pop-up” messages to appear in the AMS that alert an Immigration Officer or Visa Officer about risks they might need to consider as part of their assessments.

The client risk methodology was seldom used by officers in the branches we visited. Staff often told us that this was because the risk profiles in the client risk methodology were too blunt (and sometimes out of date or inaccurate) to be useful risk identification tools. The profiles tended to continuously trigger ”pop up”’ alerts in the AMS about general risks that staff were either already aware of or had even greater knowledge about.

In some branches, the client risk methodology had been deactivated because officers were getting too many unhelpful risk alerts when they were processing applications. This meant that some Immigration Officers and Visa Officers we interviewed had never experienced the client risk methodology working.

The accuracy and usefulness of the client risk methodology as a risk profiling tool largely depends on the quality of risk intelligence fed into it. The knowledge of offshore branch staff about risks in their local and regional markets is a rich source of this intelligence. Their ability to provide this intelligence in a systematic way needs to be looked at.

It is unfortunate that the implementation of the client risk methodology has been unsuccessful. It has potential, but needs to first be adequately resourced then promoted and made mandatory throughout Immigration New Zealand branches. For now, there is limited analysis of how risk profiles are actually used by Immigration Officers and Visa Officers.

Recommendation 10
We recommend that the Department of Labour review the operation of its client risk methodology and evaluate how the methodology’s usefulness can be improved.

Risk profiling within Immigration New Zealand branches

Because the client risk methodology was not useful enough, branches have built their own risk profiles to suit their local or regional markets. Risk profiling approaches varied considerably in the different Immigration New Zealand branches that we visited.

Guidance for applying risk profiles could be improved

Risk profiles adopted in individual branches were generally well understood by the branch staff we interviewed. Branch staff also tended to have a good appreciation of local market risks, especially in most offshore branches we visited. However, a lot of the risk profiling we observed in use was also relatively informal and partly relied on the experience of individual officers with assessing certain types of applications or nationalities of applicants. Overall, there was a lack of written guidance or formal protocols in many branches to guide officers with risk profiling. This heightens the possibility of inconsistent risk assessment by officers, especially if relatively high staff turnover in a branch means that inexperienced staff members are assessing applications.

In our view, there is scope for more formal written guidance about risk profiling to be used by Immigration New Zealand staff when they are assessing visa and permit applications. This guidance does not need to be complicated or difficult to compile. Our own observations of how branches profile risk suggest that in many cases it would simply involve better documenting the risk assessment skills and knowledge currently used by experienced officers. Doing this would also help branches to check the consistency of risk profiling by staff as part of their quality assurance processes.

Some risk profiles were applied too bluntly

Risk profiling, by its nature, involves using generalisations about a person’s background or circumstance to inform a judgement about the level of risk they may present. Therefore, risk profiling needs to be carefully managed and monitored to avoid being applied too bluntly.

Overall, Immigration New Zealand branches monitor how individual officers balance and apply different risk factors to visa and permit decisions through:

  • the quality assurance processes used in branches; and
  • discussing common or tricky scenarios in team meetings.

In our sample, we found visa or permit decisions where we consider risk profiles were applied too bluntly and determined the outcome of the assessment, without any other factors being considered. For example, in one branch many applicants were declined entry to visit New Zealand simply because they were unemployed men in a certain age range from a particular country. They were not considered to be genuine applicants with enough economic or social incentive to return to their home country if they were granted entry to New Zealand.

Risk assessments performed were not always documented

When we reviewed individual visa or permit decisions, we were often unable to identify what risk profiling had been done by officers, or how the risks of applicants had been assessed. Figure 11 gives an example from our review of visa and permit decisions. In our view, it is important that risk profiling and assessments of applicants are recorded in the AMS.

Figure 11
An example of insufficient recording of how risk assessments were made

Immigration Officers and Visa Officers typically assess the incentives for visitors to return to their home country before deciding whether to grant an applicant temporary entry. In one case, a child was applying for a visitor’s visa. Their mother had died in their home country and their father was known to be living unlawfully in New Zealand.

The visitor visa was granted and the applicant was assessed as presenting a low risk of overstaying.

There was no documentation to explain how this assessment had been reached.

People commonly apply for many different visas and permits over time, each involving some form of risk profiling or assessment by officers. Documenting the risk profiling already carried out about an applicant lets staff assessing later visa or permit applications take those previous risk assessments into account as part of their decision-making.

Recommendation 11
We recommend that the Department of Labour improve the recording of the risk profiling carried out for individual visa and permit applications.

Use of risk assessments to assign visa and permit applications varied between branches

The ways that branches used risk assessments to assign visa or permit applications to staff varied considerably. In some branches, there was no initial risk assessment of applications before they were allocated to Immigration Officers or Visa Officers. In other branches, various risk profiling methods were used to assess applications before they were allocated to staff. This typically resulted in applications being divided into either low-risk or high-risk groups. As noted earlier, this was sometimes used to estimate how much work was likely to be involved in deciding applications, or to adjust the quantity targets staff were set.

Initial risk assessments were used in some branches to allocate applications to teams of officers specialising in either low-risk or high-risk cases. One of the examples we saw was a “Breakthrough Model” used by the Auckland Central branch. Using this model, teams specialised in processing temporary entry permit applications of different risk and value levels (see Figure 12). High-risk applications were given greater scrutiny, while some low-risk applications were quickly approved.

Figure 12
The “Breakthrough Model” to allocate and decide applications by risk level

The “Breakthrough Model” was introduced in Auckland branches of the Service Delivery group in 2004. Its aim was to reduce major customer queues and backlogs caused by a substantial increase in applications in that region. The model sought to streamline the processing of low-risk temporary entry permit applications, and apply greater scrutiny to higher-risk applications.

Under the model, each temporary entry permit application was automatically profiled against a detailed series of profile rules. This gave each application an overall risk and value score. Applications were then grouped by their risk and value scores and allocated to specialist teams in branches to process.

Some teams specialised in the quick approval of applications considered to be of low risk and not needing much scrutiny. Other teams assessed higher-risk applications that required more verification and possibly interviews or direct contact with applicants.

The “Breakthrough Model” has been successful in reducing customer queues and tackling application backlogs in the Auckland region.

The different approaches we observed for allocating applications based on risk partly reflected the way that branches adjust processes to suit their local conditions. However, we are not aware of any organisation-wide co-ordination or evaluation of the different approaches (although the client risk methodology has been an attempt to provide risk profiling tools to staff). This may be a missed opportunity for Immigration New Zealand to share good practice and possibly improve the efficiency of some visa and permit processing.

Different approaches to risk assessment between onshore and offshore branches

Concerns about insufficient consideration of application history by onshore branches

Staff in offshore branches expressed to us a view that Immigration Officers in onshore branches sometimes inadequately considered the risk assessments of applicants carried out by offshore branches. This included claims that the AMS warnings7 by offshore staff were ignored. Many offshore branch staff also believed that onshore branches tended to take a more lenient approach to extending visas or approving permits for people who had been granted restricted visas from offshore because of specific risk concerns.

The prevalence of these views shows that concerns are held within Immigration New Zealand about the consistency with which visa and permit decisions are made.

Our own review of samples of visa and permit decisions did identify many cases where it was unclear or undocumented if onshore Immigration Officers had considered the application history of applicants or any risk assessments already made about them.8 (Although, as we noted above, we also found that risk assessments were not always documented.) Figure 13 provides some examples of permit decisions where there appeared to have been insufficient consideration by onshore Immigration Officers of a person’s application history.

Figure 13
Examples of insufficient evidence that previous application history had been considered

Example 1
A person had been convicted for drink-driving while in New Zealand on a visitor permit. An AMS warning recorded concerns that the applicant might intend to stay indefinitely in New Zealand and might have been working illegally.

When the person applied to stay in New Zealand, an Immigration Officer assessed the applicant as presenting a low risk. The person was approved a work permit for a job involving driving. The Immigration Officer did not check whether the applicant had been disqualified from driving when they were convicted for the drink-driving offence.

Example 2
A person was granted a short-stay visitor visa by an offshore branch based on strong stated incentives to return to their country (including holding a steady job). Once in New Zealand, the person had their stay extended by more than six months by an onshore Immigration Officer, and there was no reason provided in the AMS for the extension. The person was then granted a work permit.

Example 3

Notes in the AMS from an interview with an applicant stated they had incentive to return to their home country because they lived there with their father and their mother was deceased. There was no evidence that the Immigration Officer had checked a previous application record in the AMS where the applicant had declared that their father was deceased.

Specialist risk management positions in offshore branches

Three of the offshore branches we visited during our inquiry had specialist risk management staff. The Bangkok and New Delhi branches both had dedicated risk manager positions, which were established several years ago after corruption problems were found in those branches. The London branch had a verification officer who, in practice, had also assumed a very strong risk assessment and profiling role.

The roles and responsibilities of these risk management people varied a lot between the three offshore branches. For example, one risk manager was heavily involved in training and coaching staff about risk assessment and profiling. Another was more focused on internal controls and quality assurance within the branch. All three positions had varying roles liaising with other governments’ foreign missions, but this role was especially strong in one branch.

These specialist personnel made important contributions to risk management in these branches, especially given that the branches deal with applications from some high-risk countries. However, there were some indications from staff interviews and our own observations that risk management staff are stretched in their positions and lack backup staff. We note, however, that the Department has identified a need for more verification officers for these offshore branches. These additional staff, if funded and deployed, would also have a useful risk management role.

Verifying the information in visa and permit applications

Immigration Officers and Visa Officers have a great deal of individual discretion to decide how much of the evidence supporting applications they will verify. Verification practices and resources varied greatly in the branches that we visited. The Department needs to consider introducing minimum standards of verification. The Department has recognised the need to increase the number of specialist verification officers in offshore branches with high-risk applications.

The role of verification in making visa and permit decisions

Immigration New Zealand’s operational manual sets a general obligation on Immigration Officers and Visa Officers to take necessary or appropriate steps to verify any documentation or information relevant to making visa or permit decisions.

Verification involves checking the evidence submitted with an application to ensure that it is genuine and valid. It is an important process used by officers to help assess that people seeking visas or permits:

  • are genuine applicants;
  • meet character and health requirements; and
  • meet specific policy requirements for different visa or permit types.

It is impractical and unnecessary to fully verify all of the more than half a million visa and permit applications decided each year. This would place excessive resource burdens on the immigration system. It would also create unacceptable entry delays for visitors and some migrants, which would be detrimental to our country’s interests.

Verification is a practical risk management tool. Immigration Officers and Visa Officers are expected by Immigration New Zealand to use risk assessments and profiling to help them determine how much verification is required for different visa and permit applications.

Quality of verification work for visa and permit applications

Officers have discretion to decide the amount of verification done

In the branches we visited, Immigration Officers and Visa Officers had a great deal of individual discretion to decide what evidence was verified, and how much verification work was carried out. This was especially the case with temporary entry visa and permit applications.

Most branches we visited had no set standards or mandatory requirements for the amount or type of verification work officers should do for temporary entry applications.9 Individual officers used their experience and skills to decide how much verification work was needed for any particular application. Because of this, the extent and sometimes the quality of verification work varied widely in the sample of temporary entry visa and permit decisions that we examined. This was partly influenced by the quality of the documentation about that verification work.

Well documented visa and permit decisions clearly demonstrated what evidence had been verified and why. In contrast, we could not tell with some temporary entry visa and permit decisions what supporting evidence, if any, had been verified. Figure 14 provides examples of cases where we consider that evidence supporting the applications was insufficiently verified.

The Department should consider assessing if minimum standards for verification of various types of temporary entry visas and permits should be adopted, to improve the consistency of verification practices between Immigration New Zealand branches.

Recommendation 12
We recommend that the Department of Labour consider introducing minimum verification requirements and standards for all visa and permit applications.

Pressure to meet targets can affect the amount of verification work carried out

Several officers we interviewed admitted that the pressure to meet processing targets sometimes resulted in them verifying less evidence than they would prefer (because verification means it takes more time to process applications). These admissions are a concern. They raise the risk that shortcuts with verification might result in ineligible applicants being inappropriately granted visas or permits. In our view, these admissions strengthen the need for minimum standards of verification for different visa and permit application types.

Figure 14
Examples where the information supporting applications was insufficiently verified

Example 1
An applicant sought a work permit for a position supervising 25 manual workers. The prospective employer claimed in the application that the position required a professional teaching qualification, which the applicant had. It was unclear to us why the position required this qualification.

The employer claimed that they had unsuccessfully tried advertising for two months to fill the position. The officer had not attempted to verify this claim.

The salary initially offered was substantially below what we would expect for this type of supervisory position (or for a teacher). The salary was challenged by the officer, which resulted in the applicant – not the employer – responding that they would be offered a new salary nearly 30% higher than the initial one. The officer accepted this response without verifying it.

Example 2
This work permit application presented a case made by an employer to fill a management position. The application claimed a very specific tertiary qualification was required for the job. This qualification was held by the applicant. We concluded, after looking at the application evidence, that the job was that of an assistant in a retail store.

The officer should have done more work to verify the job offer. Our view was supported by a later review of a permanent entry application for the person under the Skilled Migrant Category. A verification report prepared by a verification officer for this later application found the applicant had provided false and misleading information, and their job was the equivalent level to that of a checkout operator.

Example 3
For this work permit, the applicant was a plumber but the job was for a builder. The officer did not verify the qualifications claimed by the applicant.

The employer claimed to have satisfied the labour market test – that a New Zealander could not be hired to do the job. The employer stated that the job was advertised for three months with no response. The only evidence for this comprised three very brief classified advertisements that contained only minimal information about the job.

The agent representing the applicant had several alerts against them in the AMS about working with employers making fake job offers. There was no indication in the AMS or file records that the officer considered these alerts, or used them to judge the amount of verification required of the application.

Verification guidance and review

The need for more guidance on verification has been recognised

In 2007, we published a report on a performance audit that examined the Department’s management of immigration identity fraud.10 One of our findings then was that Immigration New Zealand lacked organisation-wide and specific guidance on how verification is carried out. We recommended that the Department prepare specific guidance on how identity verification is to be done throughout the Department to provide for consistency in verification practice. This organisation-wide guidance was being introduced at the time of our branch visits from late August to December 2008.

Online tools to assist officers with verification were not widely used

An online verification toolkit was introduced in 2006, along with the client risk methodology, to guide officers with verification. The toolkit includes information such as contacts for verifying different information types, and a database of training materials and examples of known genuine and fraudulent documents. However, like the client risk methodology, this toolkit was rarely used by Immigration Officers and Visa Officers in the branches we visited. The slow speed of the intranet in some offshore branches we visited contributed to the limited use of the toolkit.

In our view, the Department should examine why the verification toolkit has not been widely adopted by Immigration New Zealand staff. This examination could be part of a wider review of the client risk methodology that we cover in Recommendation 10 following paragraph 5.44.

Onshore branches do not review how temporary entry permit applications are verified

Although individual officers have a great deal of discretion when deciding what verification work they do, the processes Immigration New Zealand uses to review the consistency of that discretion are limited.

In onshore branches, there is a quality assurance process where a second person checks how permit applications were assessed – but it excludes most temporary entry permit decisions.11 There is no formal and routine review within onshore branches of the consistency of verification practices of Immigration Officers. In contrast, in the Bangkok and New Delhi offshore branches (but not in London), supervisors checked how temporary entry applications had been assessed. This included reviewing the verification work carried out for each application.

Using specialist staff and third party providers for verification

Significant variation in the use of specialist staff for verification

There was much variation in the use of specialist verification officers in the branches we visited. Some branches had no access to specialist verification staff, while branches in the Auckland region had exclusive use of a specialist Central Verification Unit.12 Figure 15 provides examples of the variation in use of verification officers between some of the branches we visited.

Figure 15
Variation in using verification officers in some of the Immigration New Zealand branches we visited

Branch Number of full-time equivalent verification officers Main type of verification work done by verification officers
Auckland Central 24* Skilled Migrant Category permanent entry applications
Pacific Division, Manukau 1.5 Mostly verification of job offers
Christchurch 3 Mostly Skilled Migrant Category permanent entry applications
London 1 A range of verification work
Wellington 0**

* This refers to the number of verification officers at the Central Verification Unit as at December 2008. These officers also do verification work for the three other Service Delivery branches in the Auckland region. (It excludes the Pacific Division’s Manukau branch, which is in the Service International group.)

** A staff member was being trained to be a verification officer at the time of our visit in late August 2008.

We were told that this variation in the numbers of verification officers was a result of decisions about staffing made mainly at a regional or branch level, rather than the result of a systematic assessment of risk for all of Immigration New Zealand. This has been a serious shortcoming that Immigration New Zealand is seeking to address.

Immigration New Zealand has identified the need for more verification officers as part of its Immigration Business Transformation (IBT) project. This project includes a proposal to increase the number of verification officers working in offshore markets that present the greatest risks to New Zealand.

Boosting the number of verification officers in high-risk offshore locations also acknowledges that it is easier to stop unwanted people before they enter New Zealand, than to try and remove them once they are here. Immigration New Zealand also has a view – which we support – that verification work is best done within, or as close as possible to, the market where visa applications and supporting information originate.

Outsourced verification services

Immigration New Zealand uses third-party organisations to provide verification services in some countries, particularly where it does not have representation.13

Some countries, or regions within them, present practical difficulties that make it necessary for Immigration New Zealand to rely on locally engaged staff of third-party organisations to carry out verification work. These difficulties include:

  • a higher incidence of fraud and corruption in some areas, which both heightens the need for verification of information supporting applications and reduces the effectiveness of remote forms of verification (such as telephone interviews); and
  • some areas being too remote, inaccessible, or dangerous for branch staff to visit without unacceptable expense or risk to personal safety.

It is mainly the offshore branches that outsource verification work, although the Immigration Profiling Group also contracted a third-party organisation to help with verifying information from applicants in many high-risk countries.

Immigration New Zealand relies mainly on the observations of branch managers and staff to monitor the quality of verification work carried out by contracted third-party organisations. Resource constraints have limited quality assurance by individual branches to periodic reviews of the work carried out by contracted third-party providers. For example, the New Delhi branch has occasionally performed a full review of a sample of application verifications done by a third-party provider. The branch has sometimes sent branch staff out with locally engaged verifiers to monitor their work. The verification officer in the London branch has occasionally visited African countries to check on the work of contracted verification providers.

Because of these resource constraints, Immigration New Zealand relies on branch staff, especially offshore risk managers, to build and maintain close working relationships with other governments’ missions in local regions. These missions have greater resources for monitoring and auditing the work of contracted third-party verification providers.

Relying on locally engaged people from third-party organisations will always present risks of corruption and fraud in some countries or markets. In our view, the Department needs to be confident that its existing arrangements for monitoring the quality of outsourced verification work are sufficient to counter these risks. It would be sensible to regularly review and assess the adequacy of monitoring arrangements for outsourced verification work.

Documentation standards of visa and permit decisions

Many visa and permit decisions we examined were well supported and explained by the associated documentation, but the quality of documentation varied between individual officers and branches.

Immigration New Zealand requires Immigration Officers and Visa Officers to properly document their decisions about applications for visas and permits. This includes making accurate, clear, complete, and factual file records. Officers should also state the full reasons for their decisions (without prejudicing any risk profiles they may have used). We used these expectations to guide our work when we reviewed our sample of visa and permit decisions.

We examined many decisions that were well documented and explained in the AMS and file records by the deciding officers. In these cases, the work an officer had carried out to reach a decision on an application was clear and logical. In the branches we visited, documentation standards were consistently high in the three offshore Service Delivery branches: Bangkok, New Delhi, and London. The documentation for decisions was also of a consistently high standard in the Immigration Profiling Group.

However, the quality of the documentation of visa and permit decisions in many branches appeared to depend largely on the skills or practices of individual officers. The consistency and quality of the documentation about visa and permit decisions often varied considerably.

There were some common areas where the documentation about visa and permit decisions could have been improved:

  • Many decisions by officers appeared to rely on work assumed to have been done with previous applications for the same applicants, with no documented evidence of what that work had involved.
  • It was not always clear from the documentation what risk or complexity assessments had been carried out.
  • It was sometimes unclear whether an officer had considered alerts or warnings in the AMS about an applicant before deciding on their application.
  • Sometimes we could not tell from the AMS and file documentation what checks of an applicant had been performed, including any verification of evidence.

Some branches (or teams within them) had used or trialled templates or checklists to help guide officers with expected standards of documentation. These were local initiatives. We are unaware of any organisation-wide sharing of good practice guidance about documentation standards. Immigration New Zealand needs to consider providing guidance to staff about the expected standard of documentation.

Recommendation 13
We recommend that the Department of Labour consider ways to improve sharing of good practice guidance about documentation standards throughout Immigration New Zealand.

Computer system used to process and record visa and permit decisions

The computer system used to process and record visa and permit decisions has serious shortcomings. The Department of Labour is aware of these problems and wants to replace the system.

The Application Management System (AMS) is Immigration New Zealand’s core computer system used to process and record visa and permit decisions. The Department is aware that it is outdated and needs to be replaced.

We used the AMS extensively during our inquiry to review our samples of visa and permit decisions at each branch we visited. We observed fundamental weaknesses with the system, including:

  • The AMS cannot store some basic identity and verification information about applicants, including photographs and scanned copies of passports or other pieces of evidence submitted to support visa or permit applications.14 Officers have to rely on paper-based files to store and review this information. This is cumbersome, and prevents staff throughout Immigration New Zealand from accessing, at the same time, all the information about an applicant. Files are either routinely sent between branches to allow a new visa or permit application for an applicant to be processed, or officers have to rely on the quality of notes previously entered into the AMS about applicants. As we noted earlier, the quality of notes in the AMS detailing how decisions were made, how information was verified, or how risk was assessed, varied greatly between branches and individual officers.
  • Family members can only be linked in the AMS in a haphazard way. The system relies on officers manually entering family information. Often, this did not happen – reminders from supervisors to staff about entering family information was a common training issue in several branches.
  • The operational speed of the AMS varied considerably between different branches. In some branches, especially offshore, the AMS’ slow operation significantly slowed down the efficiency with which officers could do basic tasks when processing applications.
  • The technology is unstable. The AMS repeatedly froze on us, operated erratically, or required restarting. We were told that the AMS was built with a now-obsolete programming language, so it is costly and difficult to maintain or upgrade.

We were told of another serious shortcoming with the AMS during our interviews with staff. Most of the 29 offshore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) agency posts that process visa applications on Immigration New Zealand’s behalf do not have the AMS. These agency posts process nearly 40,000 visa applications each year without access to the applicant’s application history and travel history or any warnings or alerts stored in the AMS. The relevant information about each visa issued by these MFAT agency posts has to be manually transcribed and transferred to New Zealand to be loaded into the system. This is an inefficient and risky shortcoming.

The Department is fully aware of the problems with the AMS. A major part of its IBT business case is a proposal to replace the AMS with a new computer system. The new system would allow all the information about an applicant to be linked and available to all immigration decision-makers, including the MFAT agency posts.

Granting permits under section 35A of the Immigration Act 1987

Good procedural guidance for staff making section 35A decisions is important because of the broad discretion given to decision-makers. The Department has improved its guidance. Processes need to be introduced to regularly review and monitor the compliance of section 35A decisions with the guidance.

Separate to visa and permit decisions, for which a person formally applies, Immigration New Zealand staff may make decisions about permits under section 35A of the Act. Section 35A allows the Minister of Immigration to grant (or refuse to grant) a permit of any type to restore lawful immigration status to individuals in certain circumstances.15 This Ministerial power is delegated to all onshore Immigration Officers with Schedule 1 delegations.16

Immigration New Zealand told us that this power recognises that people may legitimately need to be repositioned lawfully within the system so that they can either continue their stated purpose for being in New Zealand or apply under the usual formal policies. People can have genuine reasons for being in New Zealand unlawfully. For example, their permit might have expired while they were ill and hospitalised. In such cases, their prompt action in trying to remedy their unlawful status can demonstrate that it was a genuine oversight.

Immigration Officers have complete discretion when deciding whether to consider a request under section 35A. They do not have to consider requests, or tell a person why a request was not considered or was rejected.

Immigration New Zealand views section 35A as an important mechanism for granting a permit, if appropriate. Immigration Officers have to consider each case on its merits and in the widest possible context, and balance the factors involved with the interests of New Zealand. The Department describes the high-level framework used in considering requests as “appropriate immigration outcomes for New Zealand and those who want to be here”.

Directly granting residence permits under section 35A is expected to be rare. A person who seems to be otherwise eligible for residence – but cannot apply because they are here unlawfully – is usually given a temporary permit to allow them to test their eligibility for residence by formally applying.

Procedural guidance provided to Immigration Officers about section 35A decisions

Given the broad discretion provided to decision-makers under section 35A, we expected the Department to have good procedural guidance for staff making such decisions.

Although section 35A decisions are discretionary, to ensure that the process is transparent Immigration New Zealand requires Immigration Officers to take a standard approach to deciding if a permit should be granted by completing an assessment guide and template. The factors that Immigration Officers consider with section 35A requests include:

  • the person’s previous immigration history;
  • the reasons for their request and their current situation;
  • their character and health;
  • whether the person is likely to qualify for residence;
  • whether the person is “well settled” in New Zealand, with strong family connections here; and
  • whether the person poses a security risk, or whether any international obligations are relevant.

Immigration New Zealand has provided guidance since the early 1990s to staff making section 35A decisions. A circular in December 2004 included a template setting out the process to be followed and the factors to be considered.

It was apparent that there was considerable confusion among staff and managers at that time about the circumstances under which permits could be issued under section 35A. More guidance documents were issued between March and May 2005 to supplement the guidance in the circular. However, it was clear that the uncertainty persisted. Particular matters of ambiguity included:

  • the factors to take into account when considering requests – particularly what the term “well settled” meant;
  • whether residence permits could be granted;
  • whether the person needed to qualify under a residence policy before a permit could be issued; and
  • how jobs and jobs offers needed to be assessed.

There were particular problems with section 35A decisions in the Pacific Division, which we discuss in Part 6.

Immigration New Zealand continued to provide guidance to staff through training workshops and focus group discussions between 2006 and 2008.

A revised circular was issued in April 2008. In our view, this circular provides much clearer guidance to staff making decisions under section 35A. Importantly, it asked branch managers to review the processes in place for appropriately managing the risks with section 35A decisions, and introduced some “escalation” controls. For example, if an officer was proposing to grant a residence permit to anyone who appeared ineligible under the residence policy, the case had to be escalated to the branch manager. Such controls are appropriate because only the Minister has the power to approve formal applications for residence that do not fit within the policy.

Having a second person in the branch check how a request has been assessed (a second-person check) is not required for section 35A decisions, but we understand that some branches do use this control in some cases.

There is a weakness in the access controls for section 35A decisions in the AMS. A section 35A decision is not listed as a decision type in the AMS (because the underlying decision is a residence or temporary permit decision). Therefore, although only Immigration Officers with Schedule 1 delegations can make section 35A decisions, there is no control in the AMS to prevent officers with Schedule 2, 3, or 4 delegations from granting permits under section 35A.

We reviewed 41 section 35A decisions made by onshore branches and found that 83% were either good or adequate. The remaining 17% appeared questionable (because we were unable to conclude whether the decisions had been made in keeping with requirements) or poor. Figure 16 describes a problematic decision that we examined.

Figure 16
Example of a problematic section 35A decision

A family had been in New Zealand on a number of visitor and work permits between 1998 and 2002. After 2002, the family remained in New Zealand without valid permits.

In 2007, the family members were granted residence permits under section 35A. The AMS notes show that the residence permits were considered appropriate because it appeared that an earlier failure to obtain visas as returning residents when travelling had caused them to lose their resident status.

There was no evidence that the family had ever had residence status, so they could not have inadvertently lost it when travelling.

Given the broad discretion that goes with section 35A decisions, it is important for the Department to have processes to regularly monitor compliance with the procedures for section 35A decisions, and to ensure that the controls in place are operating effectively. At present, the only ways to check compliance and the effectiveness of controls are through the internal audit (if the internal auditor carries out an audit in this area), and regular certification by managers of their particular controls on section 35A requests. In our view, this is not enough.

Recommendation 14
We recommend that the Department of Labour implement processes to regularly review and monitor the compliance of section 35A decisions with the procedural guidance.

Quality assurance of visa and permit decisions

Immigration New Zealand’s organisation-wide quality assurance programme provides insufficient monitoring and evaluation of the overall quality of immigration decision-making. In some branches, internal controls would not prevent an individual officer from processing and issuing a visa or permit without any other staff member reviewing their decision.

We expected effective quality assurance processes to be used to ensure that visa and permit decisions are made appropriately, consistently, and in keeping with stated policy and process requirements.

Quality assurance processes used

Immigration New Zealand uses two formal processes for monitoring the quality of visa and permit decision making: second-person checking, and an organisation-wide Quality Assurance Programme (QAP). These formal processes are complemented by various informal monitoring of staff work, by managers and supervisors in branches.

Second-person checking of visa and permit assessments

Second-person checking involves either line managers or other staff members in branches checking how Immigration Officers or Visa Officers have assessed visa or permit applications. This checking occurs before decisions are finalised for visa or permit applications. Second-person checking looks at:

  • the timeliness of processing an application;
  • adherence to policy and process requirements;
  • the record made of the decision-making process that was used;
  • the verification of the information provided in an application;
  • whether decisions, waivers, or exemptions to policy requirements have been made by someone with appropriate delegated authority; and
  • whether the correct decision (to approve or decline the application) has been made.

The Quality Assurance Programme

The QAP is managed by Immigration New Zealand’s national headquarters. Its purpose is to help the Department measure its performance against the measures in its Output Plan, especially a measure for 95% of visa and permit decisions to be decided in keeping with immigration policy.

Each week, 5% of the completed visa and permit decisions from each branch are randomly selected.17 In contrast to the second-person checking, this occurs after decisions have been finalised for visa and permit applications. Selected staff in each branch – usually immigration managers or technical advisers – assess the quality of the sample of decisions using standard questionnaires for different visa or permit types. The results are then aggregated into single percentage scores for each branch and reported back to national headquarters each month.

Strengths and weaknesses of existing quality assurance processes

Strengths of the quality assurance processes

The QAP and second-person checking processes help inform management in branches of the quality and timeliness of visa and permit decisions. They are also useful as staff training tools and help to monitor the consistency of decisions made within branches. Branches we visited typically use the results, particularly the second-person checking results, to identify common problems or mistakes made by staff deciding visa and permit applications. The matters are then covered in team training meetings or, if necessary, directly with individual staff members in coaching sessions. Some Immigration Officers and Visa Officers we spoke with also found second-person checking a useful way of getting immediate feedback on their work.

We have identified some areas for improvement with the existing quality assurance processes, especially the QAP.

Areas for improvement with the Quality Assurance Programme

The main weakness of the QAP is that assessments of decisions focus mostly on operational or administrative procedures. For example, whether fees have been receipted within the required timeframes, and whether the data has been entered correctly. There is only minimal evaluation of the quality of the decisions made. In our view, the Department should improve the focus of the QAP, and assess how well officers meet the various policy and process requirements that influence the overall quality of visa and permit decisions.

A second shortcoming of the QAP process is that results are aggregated into single percentages for each branch. We cannot see how this provides Immigration New Zealand with meaningful information about the quality of the visa and permit decisions made in all the branches. Problems with timeliness, policy and process compliance, or decision quality cannot be identified from the single percentage marks for each branch.

Several branch managers we interviewed found the QAP results insufficient to inform them about the quality of decisions made and levels of staff competency in their branches. Other factors reducing the usefulness of the QAP for quality control in branches are its timing and coverage. Visa and permit assessments are included after they have been decided, typically with a significant time lag. This means that any issues identified in the QAP can relate to decisions made several months earlier. Any significant errors in a visa or permit decision cannot be easily fixed. Also, a concern that the sample covered by the QAP is too small for overall quality control has prompted several branches to pick extra visa and permit decisions to include in their own quality assessments.

Recommendation 15
We recommend that the Department of Labour redesign Immigration New Zealand’s Quality Assurance Programme to improve its effectiveness in monitoring the quality of visa and permit decisions.

Coverage of visa and permit types checked by a second person

All branches routinely do second-person quality assurance checks on permanent entry decisions, but not on temporary visa and permit decisions. This is mainly because second-person checking the high volumes of temporary visas and permits processed each year would be prohibitively draining on staff resources and cause unacceptable delays in processing.

There were two exceptions to this general policy not to check temporary visa and permit applications. First, many branches typically, and sensibly, do extra checking of the assessments and decisions of new staff until they build demonstrable experience and competency. Secondly, some offshore branches (including the Bangkok and New Delhi branches we visited) also do second-person checks on temporary visa assessments.

The requirement in the Bangkok and New Delhi branches for second-person checks on temporary visa assessments was introduced several years ago, after internal fraud cases were found in these branches. In these branches, the portal into the AMS prevents a visa application being decided and labels issued for a passport without a second person checking the information.

We did not see evidence of any similar controls in the other branches we visited to prevent one person from both lodging and deciding a visa or permit application. In our view, this is a weakness in the existing internal controls of these branches that Immigration New Zealand needs to address. We do not recommend second-person checking of all visa and permit applications because of its impractical resource implications. However, the Department should assess the use and design of internal controls to ensure that they mitigate the risk of individuals fraudulently processing and issuing visas or permits.

Recommendation 16
We recommend that the Department of Labour implement controls to mitigate the risks associated with one individual officer processing and issuing a visa or permit.

Independence of quality assurance checkers

Some branches used immigration managers or technical advisers to carry out second-person checks, while in other branches the Immigration Officers or Visa Officers checked each others’ work. Except in rare circumstances, these quality assurance processes are typically performed by staff within the same branch, and often the same team.

The integrity of these quality assurance processes relies heavily on the work of the checkers. There are circumstances where there is a potential incentive for bias or a conflict of interest with how quality assurance is performed:

  • In branches where there was a strong emphasis to meet targets, weaker quality assurance checking would help to push through the required number of visa and permit decisions. Some staff we talked to alleged that this happened in their branches.
  • Some Immigration Officers or Visa Officers claimed that cursory checking of visa and permit decisions sometimes occurred between colleagues who were friends.

We did not see any examples of these practices, but note that the potential for them to occur does exist. In our view, the Department should consider whether adequate independence and control is built into its processes for quality assurance of visa and permit decisions.

Procedures to deal with appeals and complaints

We suggest that the Department regularly analyse complaints to identify any potential improvements to service delivery or the quality of visa and permit decisions.

Immigration New Zealand calls any complaints addressed either to the Deputy Secretary (Workforce) or to any title suggesting the head of the Department, as “Deputy Secretary Complaints”. Applicants sometimes complain about the service they have received, an application in progress, or a decision made not to approve their application.

The procedures for handling Deputy Secretary Complaints were revised in late 2006, and set out who is responsible for responding to the complainant and the principles to apply when responding to them. Deputy Secretary Complaints are referred to the applicable branch for comment and clearance through the regional manager.

Since late 2006, the Deputy Secretary (Legal) has been responsible for maintaining an overview of the complaints process, and he is notified of each complaint. He may decide to become involved directly in the response (after a review report is received from the branch manager or regional manager), he may make comments for the responding branch to consider, or he might do nothing and let the complaint follow the normal process. The Deputy Secretary (Legal) told us that he usually became involved if the complainant had complained repeatedly or if the complaint suggested grossly unfair treatment.

Immigration New Zealand does not analyse the nature of complaints or whether the complaint resulted in the Department changing its original decision. In our view, such an analysis would be useful and would enable the Department to see if there were common deficiencies that could be dealt with to improve service standards or the quality of visa and permit decisions being made. The Department told us that it has started a project to analyse complaints data.

Knowledge of complaints processes

We received an expression of concern from a member of the public that the complaints procedures were hard to find. Certainly, it is not possible to easily submit a complaint either through the Department of Labour website or through the Immigration New Zealand website. We were told that the Department is reviewing the publicly available descriptions of, and means of access to, the complaints procedures.

In our view, members of the public should be able to easily find out how to raise concerns with Immigration New Zealand and know how their concerns will be dealt with.

1: A stratified population is a population divided into groups (such as temporary or permanent entry visa or permit types, and year of decision) so that separate samples can be taken from each group.

2: Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Access Category in December 2006.

3: These residual places policies and the provisions of section 35A of the Act are important. We discuss them in more depth later in this Part and in Part 6.

4: This includes decisions made under section 35A of the Act (see paragraphs 5.95-5.110).

5: The Immigration Profiling Group (IPG) is in the Border Security group of Immigration New Zealand, not the Service Delivery group.

6: Immigration managers are responsible for managing teams of Immigration Officers or Visa Officers, and sometimes also manage support staff. Immigration Officers and Visa Officers were usually organised into teams specialising in specific types of visa or permit applications (for example, skilled migrant category applications or temporary entry applications).

7: A warning placed in the AMS is designed to alert an Immigration Officer or Visa Officer to consider specified risks or circumstances when assessing any subsequent visa or permit applications from a particular individual.

8: Immigration New Zealand’s operational manual requires officers to check for information from previous applications.

9: There are more structured verification requirements for assessing permanent entry applications.

10: Department of Labour: Management of immigration identity fraud, Wellington.

11: In some branches, a second person checked how temporary entry permit applications were assessed by new Immigration Officers, until those Immigration Officers were considered to be competent. We discuss quality assurance processes in more detail later in this Part.

12: The Central Verification Unit (part of the Border Security group) verifies information supplied by Skilled Migrant Category applicants in the Auckland region only.

13: These services include verifying documents, interviewing applicants, and helping with the collection of DNA samples.

14: For example, proof of qualifications, results of police checks, and medical certificates.

15: A permit can be granted under section 35A only to a person who is in New Zealand, is required to hold a permit to be in New Zealand but does not hold one, and is not subject to a deportation or removal order.

16: The power was delegated only to Schedule 1 Immigration Officers in 1994, three years after section 35A was inserted into the Act.

17: Most visa and permit types are included in the QAP sampling, but there are some exclusions. For example, transit visas are not sampled, and a range of permanent entry permit types that are covered by outdated immigration policy.

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