Story: Citizenship

To be a citizen is to be a full member of a nation. Every year thousands of immigrants make the decision to become citizens of New Zealand.

Story by David Green
Main image: A Korean family with their certificates of citizenship

Story summary

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British subjects

When New Zealand became a colony of Great Britain in 1840, people resident in New Zealand became British subjects. This included Māori, although in practice not all Māori had the full rights of citizens over the next 100 years. Until well into the 20th century, women were given the same nationality as their husbands. From 1866 ‘aliens’ (non-British subjects) had to pay a fee to become British subjects. After the 1890s only the Chinese had to pay a fee.

British subjects and New Zealand citizens

After the First World War, there were changes in the regulations for people who wanted to become ‘naturalised’ (made British subjects). From 1923, only people of ‘good character’ who had lived in New Zealand for at least three years and did not suffer from any ‘disability’ could apply.

During the two world wars, some ‘resident aliens’ (such as Germans or Italians) were seen as a threat and imprisoned on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour.

With the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948, all British subjects who were living in New Zealand at the time, and almost everyone born in New Zealand after the act came into force, became New Zealand citizens as well as British subjects.

Aliens and citizens

The Aliens Act 1948 restricted the rights of people who were not British subjects. For example, they were not allowed to vote in general elections until 1975. The 1948 act remained in force until 1977. Today, residents who are not New Zealand citizens can vote, but they cannot become members of Parliament.

New Zealand citizens must pay taxes and register to vote; they are entitled to New Zealand passports and can represent the country in sport, as well as having other rights and privileges which non-citizens do not have.

Choosing citizenship

During the 19th century people of many nationalities, including Germans, French, Scandinavians and Chinese, chose to become naturalised British subjects. By the end of the 20th century, half of those seeking to become New Zealand citizens were Asian. Some Pacific Islanders are New Zealand citizens by right.

How to cite this page:

David Green, 'Citizenship', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by David Green, published 8 February 2005