Security Intelligence admits ‘significant shortcomings’ in immigration advice

Director General of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), Rebecca Kitteridge.

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Director General of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), Rebecca Kitteridge.

The approach of the Security Intelligence Service in sharing information on visa applications appears to have several shortcomings.

The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Brendan Horsley, reviewed the Agency’s policies and procedures for screening and commenting on certain visa applications for security risks, and for providing advice to immigration officials.

In his report, published Thursday, Horsley said the agency was well aware that the security control system had significant deficiencies.

“The agency acknowledged during this review that some of its core visa screening policies were not implemented in practice,” the review said. Notably, it did not consistently follow policies on the level of risk required for commenting on visa and other applications. It also did not necessarily apply the specified risk assessment procedure.”

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Issues raised during the assessment included that the SIS sometimes judged whether someone was of good character, when they only had to determine whether the person posed a security risk.

There had also been issues with the SIS failing to provide updated information to the Immigration Service if a person’s security threat level changed during the visa process.

The advice from the SIS to the Immigration Service also turned out to be confusing at times.

“Not surprisingly in the circumstances, Service-INZ’s internal review found that INZ was often unsure of what NZSIS advice meant. This arose from uncertainty about how Service Advice relates to immigration law, as well as uncertainty about the probabilistic language used in NZSIS advisories.” according to the review.

Horley said the agency is working to address these issues.

Brendan Horsley found many shortcomings in the SIS advice to immigration.

RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Brendan Horsley found many shortcomings in the SIS advice to immigration.

Horsley recommended introducing a standard for the level of security risk with which the SIS would comment on an immigration application, as well as forming a methodology for assessing and describing risk levels.

In an example examined for this review, the agency assessed a visa applicant as unlikely to pose a risk to New Zealand’s national security, but nevertheless provided information “in case it informs Immigration New Zealand’s character assessment Horsley said in the review.

“Even if this was a valid action (which I doubt), its relevance to the character, the facts, or the specific case was hard to see.”

Horsley said the SIS should clarify that it was giving advice about national security risks, not whether an immigration applicant was a good character.

The SIS was also told to update the advice as soon as possible if new information came in.

Horsley has asked to be kept informed of the progress of the SIS by the middle of next year.

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