Getting a national security clearance
If you’re a candidate for a national security clearance, this section gives you an overview of the vetting process and tells you what your responsibilities and rights are.
Overview of the vetting process
The vetting process helps your organisation decide whether to grant you a clearance. They need to know they can trust you with access to information, assets, and work locations that could affect New Zealand’s security.
If you’re eligible for vetting, you’ll be vetted by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). They vet all candidates for clearances.
Your organisation will give you a vetting contact — a person in your organisation who can help you with the vetting process. The vetting process has six stages and can take several months.
There are four security clearance levels, as follows:
- TOP SECRET
- TOP SECRET SPECIAL.
Your organisation will decide which clearance level you need based on the highest classification of the information, assets and work location you need access to. A clearance level is not based on your rank, seniority, or status.
How long does vetting take?
The time it takes from your application to the final decision on your clearance depends on:
- how quickly you and your character referees provide information
- how much checking the NZSIS needs to do on your background
- how many other applications are being processed.
1. Your organisation checks your eligibility for vetting
In stage 1, your organisation works out if you’re eligible for vetting and likely to gain a clearance. If you are eligible and suitable, your organisation will apply to the NZSIS to start your vetting. You can’t apply for a clearance yourself.
Your organisation might also do some of their own security checks at this stage if they need to. For example, they might do reference or qualification checks.
To check your eligibility, your organisation will need answers to the following questions.
Do you have citizenship or the right visa status?
Normally you must be a New Zealand citizen or hold a Resident class visa. Your citizenship is an indicator of your loyalty to New Zealand.
Your organisation may have other, tighter rules about who they can grant clearances to.
Can the NZSIS check enough of your background?
The NZSIS must be able to check the details you give about your background. In most cases, backgrounds must be checkable for the required period or back to the age of 18.
|Clearance level||Background checking|
|TOP SECRET||10 years|
|TOP SECRET SPECIAL||15 years|
If you’ve spent time living overseas: The NZSIS can check your background when you have spent time living in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the USA. If you have spent much of your adult life outside of those countries, talk to your organisation’s vetting contact to make sure you meet the checkable background criteria.
You can use our eligibility self-check tool to find out if your background is likely to be checkable.
For more information about this stage of the vetting process, see part 1 of our printable guide: Getting a national security clearance. You’ll find it at the end of this page in the Supporting Documents section.
2. You register online and give consent
In stage 2, you register online and consent to the NZSIS doing background checks.
For more information about registering, see part 2 of our printable guide: Getting a national security clearance. You’ll find it at the end of this page in the Supporting Documents section.
3. You complete the vetting questionnaire
In stage 3, you complete and submit an online vetting questionnaire.
The information you give in the questionnaire is only used for vetting purposes.
The sooner you complete the questionnaire, the sooner the NZSIS can start the vetting process.
Information you need to gather for the vetting questionnaire
For detailed guidance to help you gather the right information for the vetting questionnaire, read one of the following guides.
For more information about the vetting questionnaire stage, see part 3 of our printable guide: Getting a national security clearance. You’ll find it at the end of this page in the Supporting Documents section.
4. NZSIS assesses your information and checks your background
In this stage, the NZSIS assesses the information you’ve given in the questionnaire and checks your background.
They’ll only check your background if they have your consent. The higher the clearance level, the more in depth their checks are.
The NZSIS may contact people and organisations to confirm details you give in the questionnaire. They may also invite you or your referees to take part in interviews if necessary.
For more information about interviews, see part 4 of our printable guide: Getting a national security clearance. You’ll find it at the end of this page in the Supporting Documents section.
During stage 4, the NZSIS will be looking for answers to the following questions.
Are you trustworthy and responsible?
The NZSIS looks for evidence that you:
- are loyal, honest, and trustworthy
- respect your responsibility to keep classified information safe
- will use good judgement in your decisions about classified information, free from any inappropriate influence.
Do you pose any risks?
The NZSIS assesses whether there is a risk you may decide (or be convinced) to use your access inappropriately. They look at the following areas of your life:
- organisations or people you are loyal to, who may have influence over you, or who you are associated with
- personal relationships and conduct
- financial situation
- alcohol and drug use
- criminal history and conduct
- security attitudes and violations
- mental health situation.
For more details, see: Security assessment criteria and the adjudicative guidelines
5. NZSIS gives their recommendation
In the fifth stage, the NZSIS makes a recommendation to your organisation about whether you are suitable for holding a clearance.
If the NZSIS has any concerns, they will discuss them with you first.
6. Your organisation decides on your clearance
The last stage is when your organisation decides whether to grant you a clearance and if so, at what level.
You will be notified when your organisation has made their decisions.
Your responsibilities as a vetting candidate
As a candidate, you have the following responsibilities.
Give full and honest details
You must cooperate in the vetting process by giving information fully and honestly when you:
- complete the forms you’re asked to fill out
- answer questions in an interview (if you’re asked to have one)
- provide personal documents and other evidence to help verify your details
- respond to any questions that come up during the process.
If you’re not completely honest, your organisation might doubt your trustworthiness and that could affect their decision whether to grant you a clearance or not.
If you forget to include any information, get in touch with your vetting contact straight away.
Disclose all criminal convictions and diversions
If you have any criminal convictions and diversions, you must declare all of them to the NZSIS, including historic convictions and traffic offences normally exempted by the Clean Slate Act 2004.
Because your clearance is important to national security, the NZSIS has the legal right to ask for your full criminal record under the following Acts:
Your rights as a vetting candidate
As a candidate, you have the following rights.
Rights under the Human Rights Act
When a job involves New Zealand’s national security, Section 25 of the Human Rights Act 1993 lets the NZSIS consider some factors that could otherwise be considered discriminatory. The NZSIS will only consider these factors if they are connected to a security concern.
Factors the NZSIS can consider
- Religious or ethical beliefs
- Political opinion
- Mental health
- Particular partners or relatives
- National origin
Factors the NZSIS cannot consider
- Sexual orientation
- Physical disability
- Marital status
- Age (unless you are under 20)
Right to procedural fairness
Procedural fairness means the NZSIS must use a fair and proper process to decide whether to recommend you for a clearance or not.
The NZSIS must consider your whole life and range of experiences — so they assess you accurately as a unique individual.
Security vetting involves checking more of your background than you might have experienced before. The higher the clearance level you are vetted for, the more checking the NZSIS must do. However, the vetting process:
- is designed to respect your privacy and dignity
- does not allow you to be unlawfully discriminated against
- protects your rights as a candidate as much as possible.
The NZSIS will give you the opportunity to discuss any concerns they have before they make their recommendation to your organisation.
If you believe you haven’t been treated fairly, talk to your vetting contact.
Right to make a complaint
After the vetting process ends, you can complain to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) if you’re unhappy with:
- how the NZSIS carried out the vetting process
- the recommendation the NZSIS made.
If you decide to make a complaint, it needs to be in writing.
Address for complaints
Inspector General of Intelligence and Security
c/- the Registrar of the High Court at Wellington
DX SX 11199
Page last modified: 16/12/2019