Rich Chinese with gold and silver frequent-flier cards are being allowed to skip normal border checks under a deal the Government had kept secret.
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy hastily announced the scheme yesterday, but only after leaked documents emerged in Parliament revealing the deal had rung alarm bells at the highest levels within his department.
They included fears raised by the head of Immigration New Zealand's intelligence, risk and integrity division, Shaun Driscoll, that it would lead to "imported criminality" and set "a very dangerous precedent".
The leaked documents, released in Parliament by NZ First leader Winston Peters, show the deal was struck after China Southern Airlines told the Government the "most important feature for their clients was avoiding the necessity to answer questions relating to financial backing and employment history and to provide evidence of these".
The documents, also obtained by The Dominion Post, include a highly critical note by Mr Driscoll, raising concern that the deal - which had been under discussion since at least April when Mr Guy met representatives of the airline - was not run past him for risk assessment till September.
His note warns: "China represents a huge set of risks and given the recent experience with students it seems we haven't learned any lessons. One of the key risks is imported criminality, but because this is not a recognised adverse outcome for immigration it seems to be ignored in visa decision-making. Further, being a frequent- flier club is hardly a risk-mitigation factor . . . every international criminal I have come across is probably a member of such a club."
Mr Guy confirmed gold and silver frequent-flier cardholders with China Southern Airlines would be able to skip the usual checks requiring them to produce evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves, as long as they could show their flight records over the previous two years.
But he said many of the concerns raised by Mr Driscoll in September had been addressed ahead of the scheme's planned introduction on November 22.
Applicants would still require a visa and need to meet health and good character requirements. They would also be required to show evidence of onward travel.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Driscoll referred questions to the minister's office. But his September 7 memo to immigration bosses also raised concern that China Southern Airlines was breaching advanced passenger-processing requirements to send information about travellers in advance of their arrival into a country.
The information is checked against warning lists and used for immigration processing, security and customs purposes, and provides advance warning of suspicious travellers. The minister's office confirmed that China Southern Airlines had been fined on six occasions since July 1 for failing to provide such information.
- The Dominion Post
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