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New Zealand: Digital Technology Strengthens Immigration

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With the passing of the Immigration (Mass Arrivals) Amendment Bill today, the government has significantly enhanced its digital infrastructure to manage potential mass arrivals. This forward-thinking legislation integrates cutting-edge digital technology to streamline processes and ensure robust management of mass arrival scenarios.

“While we haven’t experienced a mass arrival event in New Zealand, it is an ongoing possibility that would significantly impact our immigration and court systems,” Immigration Minister Erica Stanford says.

“This Bill ensures we are better equipped with advanced digital solutions to manage a mass arrival event, uphold the human rights of asylum seekers, and protect the resilience of our critical courts and immigration infrastructure.”

Previously, judges had just 96 hours to decide on warrants of commitment, which enabled the detention of migrants to process applications. This short timeframe often did not allow sufficient time for migrants to gain legal representation. To address this, the Bill incorporates more efficient digital processes that streamline documentation and communication, providing more time for these critical decisions. These digital solutions uphold the right to natural justice while ensuring the safety and security of New Zealanders.

The legislation also mandates that a member of a mass arrival group cannot be detained in a prison or police station before a warrant of commitment is issued. Instead, digital monitoring technologies, such as electronic tagging and real-time tracking systems, will be employed. This approach minimises physical detention and ensures that the detention is the least restrictive and for the shortest time necessary to achieve its aims.

Additionally, applications for warrants of commitment must now detail how the proposed digital monitoring and detention locations comply with the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the 1951 Refugee Convention, and other international obligations, such as the UNHCR 2012 Guidelines on Detention. This ensures that all measures taken align with international human rights standards.

During the consultation process, some submitters mistakenly believed that the changes would enable New Zealand to breach international obligations or the human rights of those involved. However, this was never the case. The Bill explicitly incorporates safeguards to uphold human rights through advanced digital tracking and monitoring systems. These systems allow for continuous oversight and immediate response to issues, ensuring the humane treatment of all individuals involved.

The Bill establishes explicit guidelines on how human rights will be protected through these digital systems to provide further certainty. The digital infrastructure will include secure databases to track and manage asylum seekers’ information, ensuring transparency and accountability in the processing of their applications.

The Bill addresses the gaps identified in a 2019 review of the mass arrivals provisions of the Immigration Act 2009, ensuring that New Zealand is prepared to respond to a potential mass arrival safely, securely, and technologically advanced. This preparedness includes the ability to rapidly deploy digital tools to assess and process arrivals efficiently, thereby preserving the human rights of vulnerable migrants.

This legislation enhances the immediate response capabilities and positions New Zealand as a leader in using digital technology for immigration management. By leveraging digital tools, they can ensure that the immigration system is resilient, responsive, and respectful of human rights, setting a benchmark for other nations.

The Immigration (Mass Arrivals) Amendment Bill significantly advances New Zealand’s immigration management strategy. By integrating digital technology, the government is ensuring it can handle mass arrivals effectively while upholding the highest human rights and legal justice standards. This approach protects New Zealand’s borders and demonstrates a commitment to humane and technologically advanced solutions in immigration policy.

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