Auckland District Law Society


Presenter:  Paul Coates
Refugee Status Officer, Refugee Status Branch
New Zealand Immigration Service, Auckland *
Auckland - 22 July 1999

1.    Applications for refugee status are considered in New Zealand pursuant to the Government's obligations as a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

2.    New Zealand became a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1960 and the 1967 Protocol in 1973.

3.    Initial determinations of applications for refugee status are made by the Refugee Status Branch (RSB) of the New Zealand Immigration Service.

4.    The Rules Governing Refugee Status Determination Procedures in New Zealand (30 April 1998) set out the function and jurisdiction of the RSB officers.

5.    These procedures have been incorporated into the Immigration Act 1987 by the Immigration Amendment Act 1999.  The Immigration (Refugee Processing) Regulations 1999 are being drafted presently.

6.    The New Zealand Immigration Service has two refugee branches, namely the Quota Branch and the Refugee Status Branch.  I represent the Refugee Status Branch, or what we simply call "RSB".  The Quota Branch accept refugees off-shore who are included in the government annual quota.  The RSB however, deal with spontaneous refugee applicants who arrive in New Zealand and lodge a claim for refugee status.

7.    RSB has a staff of 25.  This includes 16 RSB officers based in Auckland, whose job it is to make decisions on refugee applications.  RSB has one officer in Christchurch and one in Wellington.  Most RSB officers are not immigration officers.  In other words, most RSB officers are not persons designated by the Secretary of Labour as immigration officers pursuant to Section 133 of the Immigration Act 1987.

8.    A person must be in New Zealand in order to apply for refugee status.  They are not, however, required to hold a valid permit to be in New Zealand in order to be eligible to apply.

9.    All applicants must complete an application form for refugee status.  These are available from the RSB office at Level 4, 450 Queen Street, Auckland city, or by telephoning the office (09) 914 5999.  Photocopied blank application forms may be used.  A frequent error made in the completion of these forms is the omission of the physical New Zealand address of the applicant.  Please ensure your client gives you this information.  A new refugee application form is currently under development.

10.    There is no application fee.  RSB do require two passport photographs of each applicant plus the travel documents of each family member in New Zealand who is applying.  The travel documents are photocopied and returned to the applicant or representative.

11.    The RSB does not issue or renew the visitor's or work permits of refugee status applicants.  These applications are handled by the Visas and Permits Branch of the NZIS.

12.    The applicant should make a written statement of their circumstances and the reason why they fear returning to their home country.  It is helpful to the RSB if this takes the form of a chronology of events.  The statement and any supporting documentation should be translated preferably by a professional translation service and submitted together with the original or a certified copy of the foreign document.  In all cases, the name and contact details of the translator should be stated on the translation.

13.    Interpreters play an important part in the interview process.  You, as the representative, will often require an interpreter in your own dealing with your client, and for translation purposes.  We recommend you obtain the services of a professional interpreter.  For the RSB interview, RSB arranges the interpreter and pays their fee.  If your client has any special needs, for example, speaks a rare dialect, please raise this before the interview with the RSB officer assigned to the case.

14.    You should ascertain who is included in the refugee status application, and where they are living.  Immediate family members living off shore can be included in the application.  If the principal applicant in New Zealand is recognised as a refugee, then the family members off shore can be processed for residence visas to enter New Zealand to join the principal applicant.  The processing of these family members is carried out at the accredited New Zealand overseas post.  RSB does not undertake any processing of successful refugee applicants or their family members for residence status.

15.    There can be confusion about when a son or daughter of a principal applicant is no longer a dependent child.  RSB follows the NZIS Operational Manual on this issue.  A dependent child is single and aged 19 years or younger, and has no children of their own, and are reliant - totally or substantially - on the principal applicant or their spouse or partner whether or not they live with them.  If the adult child is in New Zealand they should complete a separate refugee status application form, and submit two photographs together with their own written statement.

16.    After an application for refugee status is lodged with the RSB, an acknowledgment letter is sent to counsel.  This letter is evidence that the applicant has applied for refugee status and is used in any dealings with other government agencies, such as Work and Income new Zealand.

17.    An interview date will be made and counsel will be advised of it.  Applicants who claim refugee status at the airport on arrival will be given priority over those who enter the country as visitors and apply subsequently for refugee status.

18.    Prepare your client for the interview.  Inform them that there will be a lot of questions asked of them, some of which may be of a sensitive nature.  While some questions may seem repetitive, there are good reasons why the RSB officer is asking them.  Assure the client that there will be an interpreter provided at the interview.

19.    In your client's interests, any amended or up-dated statement or additional material should be given to the RSB officer two days or more before the interview.  This is appreciated by the RSB officer who has considerable pre-interview preparation to attend to.

20.    The RSB interviews are held on level 4 at 450 Queen St.  This location has little public parking available for the duration you require (2-3 hours, or in some cases longer).  Your client ought to be informed of this as well so that the interview process runs smoothly.

21.    In delicate cases involving female applicants, RSB endeavours to match a female RSB officer and a female interpreter, although this may not always be possible.  In the case of some rare African dialects, there may only be one interpreter available and they may be male.  However, if it appears that there are no credibility concerns, probing questions are avoided.

22.    The refugee system is inquisitorial not adversarial.  Counsel is invited to attend the RSB interview, but not encouraged to interject during the interview, as there is usually much ground to cover in a relatively short space of time.  The interview usually lasts for 2 or 3 hours, but in rare cases the interview may be longer.  Counsel will be invited to comment at the end of the interview, and may ask their client questions to clarify any issues.  Many counsel elect to make written submissions on the case after the interview report has been received.

23.    Applicants are not encouraged to bring children or friends and family along to the interview.  However, if this is an issue which needs to be addressed, competent counsel will contact the RSB before the interview and make appropriate arrangements.  There are occasions where a support person has accompanied the applicant to the RSB interview.  This might be where the applicant is particularly fragile, elderly or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.  Sometimes the reality is that an applicant newly arrived in New Zealand with small children has no baby sitter and is forced to bring along the children.

24.    Counsel may tape the interview. If they do, they must provide recording equipment and make two recordings.  One recording is given to the RSB officer after the interview.

25.    Within five working days after the interview, the RSB officer will forward a written interview report to counsel.  This is a comprehensive document which fully sets out the detail of the applicant's case as it is understood to be, by the RSB officer.  There is an obligation on counsel to check the interview report against any notes or recording taken at the interview.  There could be credibility concerns or additional questions asked in the interview report which need to be answered.  The applicant should have an opportunity to read the interview report, discuss it with you and comment where necessary.  The point to remember is that you should ensure your client's account is put in the most favorable light.  If you are remiss, credibility concerns may go unanswered, and are not resolved, which is unsatisfactory.  Ten working days are allowed for counsel's response.  An extension may be granted, at the discretion of the RSB officer concerned.

26.    After the reply to the interview report is received by the RSB officer, a decision will be made.  RSB endeavours to make the decision within four months of the date of interview.  All decisions are sent by courier, and not posted or sent by DX.  There is the right of appeal to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority and that right must be exercised within then working days of the RSB decision.

*  The Refugee Status Branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service accepts no responsibility for the actions of a person or persons who rely upon the information contained in this paper.