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Passport-checking system a flying success

Passport-checking system a flying success
Hon David Cunliffe
Minister of Immigration

A major initiative to strengthen border security has well and truly proved its worth in its first six months, says Immigration Minister David Cunliffe.

As of mid August a total of 99 lost, stolen or otherwise invalid New Zealand passports have been detected by the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS) being used to enter Australia or the United States since 1 April, Mr Cunliffe said today.

In addition, 46 Australian and 16 American passports reported as lost, stolen or otherwise invalid have been detected by the system when presented for travel to New Zealand at overseas airports.

"These successes have proved the worth of New Zealand joining the RMA system," the minister said.

"It is stopping people using lost and stolen American and Australian passports from entering New Zealand, strengthening further our border security measures.

"And by detecting lost and stolen New Zealand passports when they are presented at airports in American and Australia, it is enhancing the integrity of New Zealand passports.

"I am advised, however, that none of the 99 New Zealand passports detected had been obtained by fraudulent application to the Department of Internal Affairs. They were passports reported as lost or stolen but later used for travel, in many cases innocently."

RMAS is a passport-checking scheme initiated by APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group. New Zealand joined the RMAS in March.

It allows participating countries to detect the use of invalid travel documents either at airport check-in counters before passengers board flights, or before their arrival in the destination country.

"I look forward to other APEC members joining the system, which will be of considerable benefit for the border security of New Zealand and each country belonging to the RMAS," Mr Cunliffe said.


Contact David McLoughlin 04 471 9067 or 021 227 9067

Background on the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS):

RMAS is a database of information on lost or stolen passports which operates between the United States, Australia and New Zealand. If a passenger checks in with a passport which has been reported lost or stolen through this system, it can be identified and the person can be stopped from boarding a plane.

The aim of this system is to facilitate the safe and efficient travel of genuine travellers to New Zealand across New Zealand borders, while detecting and preventing people travelling here for criminal purposes. The system has been place since April 2006.

Formerly called the Regional Movement Alert List pilot, the system was ratified at the recent APEC meeting in Vietnam this and is now no longer a pilot.

The system was also renamed as the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS)

What happens when a passport raises an alert through RMAS?

If a passenger is checking in to board a plane to New Zealand presents a lost or stolen passport recorded on the RMAS database, a match will be made with the database and a 'hit' recorded.

The airline checking in the passenger will be electronically advised to contact the Department of Labour.

The department will then contact the passport issuing authority in the US or Australia to confirm a lost or stolen passport is being used. It is up to that agency to take the matter further.

If the passport is recorded as lost or stolen the person will not be able to board a plane to New Zealand, unless in certain circumstances it is found that the person is a genuine traveller and is the legitimate bearer of the document.

If the Department of Labour is advised by the US or Australia that a lost or stolen New Zealand passport is being used to board a plane to Australia or the States, the department contacts Internal Affairs to follow up the matter.

BACKGROUND ON OTHER GOVERNMENT BORDER SECURITY INITIATIVES

Advance Passenger Processing (APP)

RMAS is one part of Advance Passenger Processing.

APP allows the Department of Labour to screen every person intending to board a plane at an offshore airport which is destined for New Zealand.

It checks every person against Department of Labour records while they are checking in.

This means that people who aren't permitted to enter New Zealand can be declined to board the plane – and will never reach New Zealand's border.

Once the department is aware of a passport being stolen, an alert is put on that passport which will be picked up if a passenger attempts to check in while using it.

If a check-in attendant has concerns about a passenger – but nothing comes up through the APP alert system – they can alert Department of Labour staff in New Zealand who can prepare to assess the person face to face upon their arrival in New Zealand (see 'Airline Liaison Officers' below).

Airline Liaison Officers

Department of Labour airline liaison officers interact with passengers arriving in New Zealand and assess passports if there is doubt of their authenticity.

The department uses document examination equipment and a computer program with a database of security features of different countries' passports to verify security features.

The expertise of airline liaison officers is invaluable in identifying types of passport fraud which can't be caught through standard computer checks – for example, when a passport has a false photo substituted for the original photo, but the passport is otherwise valid.

Immigration Profiling Group

The Immigration Profiling group was established in June 2005 to complement the department's existing border security initiatives.

The IPG looks at a range of factors to assess whether a person poses an unacceptable risk to New Zealand's international reputation. This is not just about applications from specific countries. Applications from countries other than those on the list can be referred to the IPG if the applicant poses a reputational risk to New Zealand.

Another function of the IPG is to review past decisions made between April 2003 and May 2005. This review is scheduled for completion in May 2007.

Immigration Act Review

The government is reviewing the Immigration Act to ensure that New Zealand's immigration legislation encourages the entry of the people we need, while effectively protecting our border.

This review aims to provide New Zealand with a strong legislative foundation, to allow us develop future focused policies and encourage economic growth.

To achieve this, immigration legislation needs to be clear, comprehensive and appropriate to New Zealand's needs. With this in mind, the objectives of the review are to:
· Ensure New Zealand's interests are protected and advanced
· Ensure compliance with international obligations
· Establish fair, firm and fast decision-making processes
· Modernise and simplify the legislation.

Submissions on the Immigration Act review are being considered by the Minister of Immigration, who will submit finalised papers to Cabinet later in the year.

The minister will introduce a bill into Parliament in 2007. The legislation is expected to come into force in late 2008.

Immigration Change Programme

A programme of change is underway to make sure New Zealand has the skills and talents it needs, both now and in the future. There are three complementary components to the programme:

· A strong legislative framework, including the Immigration Act review and the Immigration Advisors Licensing Bill
· Developing an Immigration Policy Framework that is flexible and responsive to meet our future needs
· Developing and implementing a new business model with associated service enhancements

These changes will ensure immigration better supports New Zealand's future by encouraging the entry of the people we want.

ENDS

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