Part 2: Border security and how the agencies operate at the border

Border security: Using information to process passengers.

In this Part, we discuss how incoming passengers are assessed:

Pre-arrival assessment

There are many levels of interaction between the agencies and passengers. Each agency has its own intelligence function to assess incoming passengers based on the risks that they have identified.

Incoming passengers are assessed for risk before they arrive at a port. Often, risk assessment begins before a person even boards the craft at their point of departure. For example, a person who has decided they want to come to New Zealand may have to apply for a visa before they travel. Only people from visa waiver countries may be eligible to apply for a visa on arrival.5

Immigration New Zealand manually profiles passengers based on available information. This is handled by a specialist team based off-shore. If a passenger is identified as presenting a risk, they are prevented from boarding the plane (this is Immigration New Zealand's preferred option) or an alert is entered into Customs' computer system, CusMod.

Customs also assesses passengers for risk before arrival. To do this, it uses the Automated Targeting System – Global to run passenger information (such as information about the purchase of airline tickets) against established risk profiles. If a passenger matches a risk profile, their information is sent to an analyst to review and determine whether an alert should be entered into CusMod.

The agencies are also part of the Integrated Targeting and Operations Centre (ITOC). Formed in 2011, ITOC brings staff from Customs, MPI, Immigration New Zealand, New Zealand Police, and others together to improve the flow of information necessary for effective border security management.

By bringing these agencies together to collaborate and co-operate, ITOC works to identify and target risks, plans and co-ordinates operations, and carries out other border functions.6

If a "person of interest" is identified, ITOC staff make enquiries with other agencies to collect more information. This could include international border agencies, law enforcement services, or a domestic agency. If there are concerns, an alert will be placed on CusMod.

Assessment on arrival

Passengers are required by law to complete passenger arrival cards when entering New Zealand. Passengers must provide information such as where they have come from, whether they have any food items, and whether they are carrying restricted or prohibited items. This information provides frontline staff with an indication about how a passenger should be processed.

If Customs, Immigration New Zealand, or MPI have entered an alert into CusMod for an incoming passenger,7 it will be triggered when that person's passport is scanned on entry. The Customs officer will then act as necessary.

Once the passenger has arrived at the port, Customs officers also have the opportunity to assess that person based on their physical presentation. Frontline staff visually profile arriving passengers, looking for signs of intentional or unintentional non-compliance with New Zealand laws.

MPI is concerned with biosecurity risks and so its approach is different to that of Customs and Immigration New Zealand. A passenger who breaches biosecurity rules usually does so unintentionally. This requires MPI to focus more on the passenger's presentation at the border. MPI has a performance measure that 98.5% of international air passengers comply with biosecurity requirements by the time they leave the airport, which means that all incoming passengers are assessed for risk by a Quarantine officer in some way on arrival.

Customs and Quarantine officers have access to a range of tools to assist them with risk assessment. Detector dogs can detect prohibited goods such as drugs, food, and large quantities of cash. X-ray machines are available to detect banned or illegal goods and substances inside suitcases or other items.

If a passenger is considered to be a risk they will be sent to a secondary search area, which gives frontline staff the opportunity to question the passenger and gather information. Following further inquiries, the passenger or the contents of their bags could be searched.

Where possible, border agencies use Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Record Data for risk assessment purposes.

Passengers on cruise ships are treated as transit passengers for immigration purposes unless they permanently disembark the ship in New Zealand. Currently, cruise ship operators supply Advance Passenger Information but there is no equivalent of Passenger Name Record Data in the cruise ship industry. This is a gap in the risk assessment.

MPI receives information about the ship before its arrival, which allows it to assess the biosecurity risk the ship and its stores presents, as well as details of crew and passengers. The level of inspection the ship is required to undergo is determined after this risk assessment. The information received includes whether the ship is participating in the cruise line accreditation process (see paragraph 3.23). Quarantine officers carry out clearance procedures for any crew or passengers leaving the ship, regardless of their visa status.

5: See for more information about visa waivers.

6: New Zealand Customs Service (2014), Statement of Intent 2014–2017, Wellington, page 20.

7: Other agencies can enter alerts into CusMod. However, these alerts are not directly related to the processing of incoming passengers and their accompanied goods.