Immigration New Zealand unreasonable to stamp decline in passport

Ombudsmen Act 1975
Related legislation:
Immigration Act 1987
Legislation display text:
Ombudsmen Act 1975, Immigration Act 1987
Dame Beverley Wakem
Case number(s):
Issue date:

Immigration New Zealand unreasonable to stamp passport to show application was declined when no legal authority for this practice      

The complaint alleged that Immigration New Zealand’s practice of stamping passports when visa and permit applications were declined was unreasonable. While INZ argued that this was a ‘customary practice’ among embassies, the complainant maintained that INZ did not have any legitimate authority for marking her passport in the manner it did especially as such a stamp could have negative connotations.

INZ maintained that the practice was an effective means of informal international co-operation as it provided an alert that further enquiry or investigation may be warranted. It was also useful for its Branches that did not have access to the INZ automated filing system.

The Chief Ombudsman formed the opinion that this practice did not fall within the primary purpose of a passport and it was, therefore, unreasonable to use a passport for a purpose that the holder did not anticipate. She also concurred with the Privacy Commissioner’s view that a slight privacy interest attached to the information contained in a passport and, therefore, applicants should be put on notice that certain information may be recorded in their passports. Therefore, in so far, as the complainant was unaware of the practice when she presented her passport, indicating that her visa application had been declined was unreasonable.

INZ reviewed and changed its practice to take account of these concerns (INZ’s Internal Administration Circular no. 09/01). The practice was to be limited to situations where a person’s application had been declined for not meeting character requirements. Further, applicants would be notified of this possibility by way of a notation added to application forms.

Given the changes in INZ’s practice and that INZ had issued visas to the complainant subsequently to enable her to visit New Zealand, the Chief Ombudsman concluded the investigation without making any formal recommendations. However, she made the observation that INZ should not construe the lack of formal recommendations as reaching any view as to whether this modified process is administratively reasonable. She warned that if this Office received any future complaints regarding endorsements it would be open for an Ombudsman to revisit the issue.

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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