Monday, June 22, 2015

False positives

Part of the government's vote-grabbing crackdown on immigration has been a programme of allowing employers to look up employees' immigration status, to ensure they only hire people who are entitled to work in New Zealand (backed of course by criminal penalties if they don't). Which sounds fine, until you realise the downside: false positives:

After 47 years of living in New Zealand, a Whangarei man only recently learned he is not a citizen when his employer terminated his contract due to his "immigration status".

Graeme Watson - who went to school here, got married, obtained driving and gun licences, became a registered counsellor and worked in Government-provided health services - said he might joke about being a "nobody", a stateless person in his own country, but "it's a bloody nightmare".

He arrived on a Scottish parent's passport in the late 1960s and, as he had never left New Zealand, never applied for a passport.

Two months ago Mr Watson lost his job because of his "immigration status" , after being employed with a private mental health provider for only five weeks. He was paid for only two of those weeks; the nationwide company telling him his outstanding wages were frozen because he may have worked "illegally", he said. Before then he had worked for more than four years with Northland District Health Board.

Watson is deemed to be a New Zealand Permanent Resident under section 44 of the Immigration Act 1987. He didn't have to do anything to claim this status; he meets the criteria so he has it. He could get it formally recognised on application of he wanted, but he doesn't have to. He is unquestionably entitled to live and work in New Zealand. Immigration NZ gave false information about that entitlement to his employer, costing him his job. I cannot think of a clearer case of someone deserving compensation for an immigration fuckup.

And of course it raises the question of how many other people are in this situation: kiwis who have lived and worked here all their lives, but who Immigration NZ will have sacked (and deported) if they ever came to its attention because some bureaucrat is ignorant of the law or ticked the wrong box.

And it raises the wider consequences of this database (and being a "database society"): errors happen. In the case of errors with immigration or citizenship status, they can have significant effects. Those effects are magnified the wider the information is shared. If Immigration cannot guarantee 100% error-free data, it should not be providing it. It is that simple.