$80 million for visa computer

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2011

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A Kiwi visa swindle in Thailand and an old system that left New Zealand vulnerable to identity fraud by migrants have led the Government to commit $80 million toward a new computer system to tighten up on border security.

The Immigration Global Management System (IGMS) will centralise immigration decisions so they are made within New Zealand and let migrants and other visa applicants check the progress of their applications online. It should lead to faster decisions.

The investment was first proposed by the last Labour government in 2007 in response to criticisms that took hold after a Thai national working for Immigration New Zealand in Bangkok was caught swindling thousands of dollars from Cambodian visa applicants in 2003. The National and Labour parties have since clashed over the pace of progress of the project.

One goal is to improve the consistency of visa decisions by reducing the discretion of individual officials. IGMS will also allow the capture and storage of biometric information, such as fingerprints.

Outgoing immigration minister Jonathan Coleman said New Zealand was competing with other countries for skilled migrants and to host foreign students and IGMS would provide a faster and more modern service that would help the economy to grow.

"Customers applying for visas will have their own individual online immigration accounts that will enable them to enter all their details online and track progress on their applications."

Immigration New Zealand head Nigel Bickle said 74 per cent of applications for skilled migrant visas were processed within six months from the date each application was tendered.

"It is anticipated that IGMS will not only reduce processing time variability between branches, but processing times as a whole will reduce significantly."

It is understood the Labour Department is only about a week away from naming a preferred supplier to deliver the system. Construction will start early next year. The department will provide $5m of the capital funding from its own budget and the rest from central government.

Immigration New Zealand charges between $1550 and $2050 for residency visas under the skilled migrant category and between $80 and $230 for student visas.

A 2008 auditor-general report found weaknesses in the department's ability to prevent and detect identity fraud by migrants, while a Cabinet paper said 39,000 visa decisions were made in 2007 without access to Immigration's 18 year-old AMS computer system.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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