The Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1993 (“the OIA and the Privacy Act”) are important pieces of legislation in the New Zealand immigration context. With their help, applicants for Visas can get a copy of file information held about them. This file information can include:
- copies of previous applications including documents provided;
- records of interactions with Immigration New Zealand;
- information such as travel history;
- history of Visas granted, Visa applications approved and declined.
The size of the file released can vary, but it is not uncommon in many situations for it to be over 100 pages long. It may come as a surprise to some the amount of information that can be released by way of a request for file material.
Having access to information under the OIA and the Privacy Act is meant to increase the transparency of decision making by INZ. When the process by which a decision was reached can be seen and scrutinised, we can identify ways to contest a bad result. Where for example a challenge to a decision is successful, it is more likely a correct outcome has been reached.
Here at Laurent Law we are often asked to assist with difficult immigration matters. Getting a copy of a client’s file from INZ can form an important first step in order to determine what the next steps should be.
By law, Government agencies must respond to an information request in 20 working days. In some cases we ask the INZ Privacy Team for urgency where it is justified, and they are often helpful. However, due to the statutory timeframe, and the fact that the release of information may not occur quickly, it is not always possible to get the file in time to act upon a case – for example, when addressing an INZ “letter of concern” with a deadline of 10 working days to respond.. Therefore, while having a copy of the file is usually helpful, it is not always possible. If we believe that file material is required, it is best that the request is made as early as possible.
In some cases, INZ will not release full information and may black it out on the documents that it does send. Justifications for withholding information are set out mainly in the Privacy Act, and include:
- disclosure would endanger the safety of an individual;
- disclosure would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial;
- release would result in disclosure of the affairs of another person;
- in the case of an individual under the age of 16, disclosure would be contrary to that individual’s interests.
If the person requesting the information is not happy with a decision to withhold information under the Privacy Act, they can complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Wellington. Complaints about information withheld under the OIA go to the Ombudsman – for example, a refusal to disclose internal staff operating procedures which do not relate to a particular client, but are relevant to whether INZ has followed its own rules.
If you have an immigration matter which may require investigation of your file in depth, contact us here at Laurent Law to see how we can help.