Getting a national security clearance
This section helps you understand what the vetting process is about, so you know why it’s important and what to expect.
Why you need a national security clearance
You need a national security clearance (clearance) if you regularly need to use information or resources with a security classification of CONFIDENTIAL or higher. Your agency decides what clearance level your role needs.
The clearance level you need depends on the highest classification on the information and location you need to access to do your work — your ‘need to know’. A clearance level is not based on your rank, seniority, or status.
The four security clearance levels are:
- TOP SECRET
- TOP SECRET SPECIAL.
Your agency must keep New Zealand Government information and resources safe. They need to know they can trust you with access to information or resources that could affect New Zealand’s security.
The vetting process helps your agency decide whether to grant you a clearance.
You’ll be vetted by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). They vet all candidates for clearances.
Your agency decides if you are eligible for vetting and likely to gain a clearance. If you are, they apply to the NZSIS for your vetting. You can’t apply for a clearance yourself.
- might do some of their own security checks if they need to
- helps you with the vetting process
- makes the final decision on what clearance level to grant you
- manages your clearance while you work for them.
Your agency will give you a vetting contact — a person in your agency who can help you with the vetting process.
The vetting process has six stages
The six stages of the vetting process are as follows.
- Your agency checks if you are eligible for the vetting process.
- You register online and consent to the NZSIS doing background checks.
- You complete an online vetting questionnaire.
- The NZSIS assesses your information and checks your background.
- Then NZSIS makes a recommendation to your agency. (The NZSIS will discuss any concerns with you first.)
- Your agency decides whether to grant you a clearance and notifies you.
Are you eligible to get a national security clearance?
Normally you must be a New Zealand citizen or hold a Resident class visa. Your citizenship shows you are loyal to New Zealand.
Your agency may have other, tighter rules about the nationalities they can grant clearances to.
The NZSIS must be able to check the details you give about your background.
The following table shows how far back the NZSIS needs to be able to check your background. Note: For all clearance levels, the earliest age you need to go back to is 18.
|Clearance level||Background checking|
|TOP SECRET||10 years|
|TOP SECRET SPECIAL||15 years|
NZSIS can check your background when you have spent time living in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom or the USA. If you have spent a considerable part of you adult life outside of those countries you should talk to your vetting contact to make sure you meet the checkable background criteria.
When the NZSIS vets you, they check and assess your background. The NZSIS will only do this if they have your consent. The higher the clearance level, the more in depth their checks are.
Are you trustworthy and responsible?
The NZSIS looks for evidence that you:
- are loyal, honest, and trustworthy
- respect your responsibility to keep the protected information safe
- will use good judgement in your decisions about the 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 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.
Your responsibilities as a vetting candidate
This section tells you about your responsibilities as a vetting candidate, and your rights in the vetting process.
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 agency might doubt your trustworthiness — 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.
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 18)
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 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 agency.
If you believe you haven’t been treated fairly, talk to your vetting contact.
For more information, see Procedural fairness.
Right to make a complaint
After the vetting process ends, you have the right to make a complaint 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.
For more information, see the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security website.
Page last modified: 11/09/2019