National Security Clearance

What is a national security clearance?

All government organisations 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.

You need a national security clearance (clearance) if you work for or with a government organisation and need to use information or resources or access locations with a security classification of CONFIDENTIAL or higher. The government organisation decides what clearance level your role needs.

How you get a national security clearance

If you require a national security clearance you’ll be vetted by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).

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. Once the government organisation you are working for receives a recommendation from NZSIS they will decide whether or not to grant you a national security clearance.

There are four national security classification levels :

  • Restricted  (no security clearance required)
  • Confidential
  • Secret
  • Top Secret.

Holding a clearance does not give access to all official information. You must still have a legitimate need to access information. This is known as the 'need to know' principle.

Who needs a security clearance?

Employees who need access to privately marked material, classified systems/areas or who are required to attend meetings or conferences where a minimum clearance level is required will need a national security clearance at the required level. This will be highlighted in the position description as well as in the job advertisement.

Are you eligible for a security clearance?

To be eligible for a security clearance, applicants must be legally entitled to work in New Zealand and be able to obtain and maintain the required level of New Zealand Government security clearance for the position applied for.

You can use  this self-check tool to find out if you might be eligible to apply for a national security clearance :Check eligibility for a national security clearance

How to get a security clearance

Vetting is managed through the Online Vetting Requests (OVR) system. This is a secure, automated web-based system.

Once the vetting process is initiated by the Departmental Security Officer (DSO), the candidate receives an email with a web address, logon and password to the OVR system. This allows the candidate to access and complete an online form requiring specific personal information

The following guide is for everyone who is a candidate for a national security clearance. Information on the vetting process and what you need to do:

 Getting a national security clearance

Information is gathered from candidates and their selected referees through online questionnaires and interviews. Enquiries include, but are not limited to, standard checks (in New Zealand/or overseas) such as credit and police histories, international travel and any security relevant information.

When enquiries are complete, the NZSIS provides a formal assessment to MSD’s  Departmental Security Officer (DSO) on your suitability to hold a security clearance.

The DSO then decides whether to grant a clearance based on the assessment from the NZSIS, and any other relevant information it may hold.

Qualified clearances

Sometimes the NZSIS will return a ‘qualified assessment’. This is usually where a person has strong ties to another country. This may prevent you from working in some roles at MSD.

When security clearance is not given

If you are not successful in getting the required level of security clearance for the role, then you may not be able to start the job. If you have already started in the role, then you may not be able to continue your employment.

Not getting a clearance is not a negative reflection on your character or reputation. Rather it is an assessment that there may be circumstances that could present risks to the protection of official material.

Any doubt about an individual's ability to access official material must be resolved conservatively to protect official information and our national interest.

A clearance might not be given if vetting enquiries can't be completed. The most common reasons for this are:

  • living outside New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States for a period of 5 to 10 years before applying for a clearance
  • no response from the referees provided in your application.

These reasons can also lead to enquiries being delayed. MSD has no influence over vetting times. To help process your vetting request quickly please ensure referees cooperate and by advising MSD of changes to the details in your form.

What to do if you think a clearance was unfairly denied

New Zealand citizens or residents who feel they have been adversely affected by any act, omission, practice, policy, or procedure of the NZSIS are able to complain to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Complaints can include matters relating to the conduct of and reports concerning security clearance vetting.

The Inspector-General can inquire into any complaint and may make recommendations for redress. Complaints to the Inspector-General should be made in writing, addressed to the Inspector-General, care of the Registrar of the High Court in Wellington.

On-going management and compliance

Assessment of your suitability to access official information continues after a clearance is initially granted.

As ongoing maintenance of their clearance status, employees are required to notify MSD of any changes in their personal circumstances, including:

  • financial – significant changes in your financial circumstances (e.g. bankruptcy etc)
  • domestic changes (e.g. divorce, new partner, marriage details, citizenship etc)
  • intended overseas travel
  • if you take up alternative employment.

Security clearances are usually valid for 5 years, although this may vary. If a clearance is still required after that time, the vetting process is repeated.  Security clearances are subject to on-going reviews and renewals within that 5 year period. 

If you leave MSD, your clearance will be considered to have lapsed. Current clearances may be able to be transferred between government organisations in some circumstances.

Who to contact

If you have questions, email