25 Jun 2009

Security concern if immigration checks not upgraded

10:08 pm on 25 June 2009

New Zealand could be seen as a weak link in international security if systems for scanning visitors and immigrants are not upgraded, the Immigration Minister warns.

Jonathan Coleman says while problems within the Immigration Service need to be fixed, it also needs substantial investment in new systems.

Dr Coleman told Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee on Thursday he will be seeking approval from the Cabinet later in the year to spend $117 million over the next four years on a new information technology system for the service.

He says that will include the introduction of biometric scanning to tighten monitoring at the border.

"We've got to have a system where when overseas people come in we can do iris scanning, we can do thumb print scanning, to completely verify people's identities. There is no doubt (that) in the past, there have been people who have got into New Zealand who we wouldn't want here."

Dr Coleman says making those improvements will reassure other countries and help moves to make travel between New Zealand and Australia easier.

The changes will also make it easier for those wanting to come to live or study in New Zealand who currently face long waits compared with the process they face in Australia.

Dr Coleman said a lot needs to be done to fix what he called a dysfunctional Immigration Service and money is needed to update its systems, which are outdated.

Once in place, the new system will cost $23 million per year to run.