Visa application software needs clear oversight – advocates


Software that can help process visa applications stops short of making decisions about which migrants are allowed to enter the country, says Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

Associate director of the Refugee Law Lab at York University in Canada, Petra Molnar, said that in the rush to improve the efficiency of visa processing, New Zealand appears to have ignored the debate over whether using software is the right thing to do.
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New rules allow electronic systems to grant visitor visas and grant or deny provisional visas, which are used to legally keep people in the country while another visa is being decided.

But the government agency insists it will not use the powers, intending to only use the technology to carry out administrative tasks.

Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin said with large caseloads some automation made sense for faster decisions, but there was cause for concern.

“One of the benefits, of course, is speed – in the sense that there shouldn’t be a need for a tedious search for documentation, as I understand the system will be able to basically read it all and essentially only being in the position to kind of trigger human intervention at various times if necessary.

“Having said that, it’s remarkable how INZ has been able to overcome 21st century advancements in terms of technology, so it will depend on how much they use it and how they use it, and if they use it. at best effect either for service delivery or for their own internal benefits,” he said.

“The concern that most people have, I think, is that if you’re going to automate decisions, then how on earth are decisions going to be formulated other than just following a template?

“And if you want to know what the reasons are, or what the assessment was or how the assessment was conducted, how the documentation was seen – there can’t really be an intelligible assessment if it’s done by algorithms kind of reduces the whole process to a box-ticking exercise, where there’s no kind of ability to persuade or convince or make an argument, or very limited elements of it. this.

A 2018 government report detailed how INZ uses operational algorithms to manage risk and speed up decisions, including biometric and biographical matching, screening and case prioritization.

The INZ had also created a data modeling trial using a dot matrix at its weekly meeting to prioritize cases for action, using Indians as one of its criteria for deporting delinquents.

It was dropped, with the Human Rights Commission and Privacy Commissioner saying they would work with INZ if they ever wanted to consider a similar initiative.

Professor Colin Gavaghan, of the University of Otago, said at the time that studies of human interactions with technology and algorithms suggested that people tended to defer to whatever the machine recommended. , even if the decision was theirs.

It’s a concern Martin echoes, saying the demographics of migrants dictate how risky their application is before an immigration officer reviews it, and further automation could make the situation worse.

“We all know it exists, we all know that if you have a certain profile in terms of age, marital status, education and country of origin, the prospect of getting a general visitor visa is sucks and your advice to people is “look, don’t even bother applying”.

“So to me if they’re carrying this over into an automated system, that means they’re actually building in the bias of the system and it comes down to this question of… how can you convince anyone of your case if they’ve been made by algorithmic formula.”

International students and applicants for the new accredited work visas will be able to use the enhanced online immigration system later this year.

Eventually, all types of visas will go through this system, although the option to use paper applications will be retained for the time being.

Concerns about the gradual widening of automation’s reach have surfaced in other countries that belong to Migration 5, a forum that mirrors membership in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Associate Director of York University’s Refugee Law Lab in Canada, Petra Molnar, studies how surveillance, artificial intelligence, profiling and automation are used in border decisions.

She said in the rush to improve efficiency, New Zealand seemed to have skipped the debate over whether it was the right thing to do.

“It immediately highlighted that there’s a lack of conversation about oversight, accountability and the kind of impact that can have on people’s claims, but also on their human rights in general,” he said. she declared.

“For example, protection against discrimination, equality rights, but also people’s right to privacy and even just basic transparency and procedural rights. Often we don’t even know that governments are doing that.

“And the problem with these technologies is that they lack transparency – and it’s often very difficult to know how a decision is made, because when we talk about, for example, algorithms and automated decision-making – it’s very difficult to figure out why a particular decision was made, what kinds of risk factors were assessed, what kind of information was collected, it basically creates a very high risk environment for the individual in cause and also in terms of procedural rights.

“The concern is that when we introduce augmented or fully automated decision-making into something as opaque and discretionary as immigration decisions, fundamentally the technology that we know is not bias-free, and it can not only reproduce the type of bias that we hold in society, but also create new ones.”

INZ said the new technology would automate the application process, improve the customer experience and speed up decisions – but would not make decisions without human intervention.

A national INZ official, Jeannie Melville, said artificial intelligence was not used.

The rule change was approved by the minister on the basis of legislation allowing automated decision-making.

“There is nothing at all that allows us to automatically deny a visa application, it is only to automate the approval of certain components of the application. So with the visitor visa at the moment we don’t do any end-to-end automation Only certain components can be automated.

“As we introduce the system, an immigration officer will review each application,” she said.

“Now if there is a problem with a provisional visa, for example, if a previous visa had character or health problems or anything that needed to be reconsidered, it would always be abandoned for an immigration officer examines and uses its expertise to determine whether it should be granted or not.”

The 2018 report indicates that three-quarters of agencies provided a description of the operational algorithms they used on their websites, but no such information could be found during a keyword search on the INZ website.

He noted that risk rule changes were overseen by a tiered governance model, a triage reference group, an operational systems integrity committee (OSIC) and the immigration leadership team.

Activation chief executive Stephen Dunstan said OSIC no longer exists, but a data science review board oversaw the development and use of the algorithms by INZ and the ministry Business, Innovation and Employment as a whole. It included independent external members and had been informed of the changes to Online Immigration.

Automating administrative steps for visa applications is not the same as decision-making and only immigration officers can refuse applications, he said.

“We always assess the information provided by the applicant before making a decision on an application, but enhancements to our online systems are designed to make visa application easier and improve visa processing times. For example, if a photo submitted as part of the online application meets the requirements, the applicant will automatically proceed to the next stage of the application, similar to an online application for a New Zealand passport.

“We manage the collection, storage, use and processing of an individual’s data in accordance with the Privacy Act 2020.”

A Privacy Impact Assessment was prepared as part of the development of Online Immigration and no significant concerns were raised by the Privacy Commissioner, he said.

Verification tools also introduced include a global address locator, photo quality checker, and e-passport verification mobile app.

Applicants will be advised of the evidence they must submit at the time of application, with medical certificates requested afterwards, if required. Sponsors and Supporting Partners will also be able to submit statements online.

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