The rights of non-citizens
New Zealand’s non-citizens have always had fewer rights than its citizens, especially in wartime. In some respects, however, disadvantages gradually disappeared. The Aliens Acts of 1866 and 1870 permitted the subjects of ‘friendly States’ to hold personal property and real estate under the same conditions as British subjects. Aliens became eligible to vote – but not to stand as candidates – in local body elections in 1926.
The 1948 Aliens Act
New Zealand’s last Aliens Act, passed in 1948 just before the introduction of New Zealand citizenship, stipulated that aliens could not own shares in New Zealand-registered ships, hold parliamentary office, or vote in parliamentary elections. They could be deported if convicted of any offence punishable by more than a year’s imprisonment, or if it was ‘not conducive to the public good’ that they remain in the country. Aliens could not be admitted as barristers or solicitors, or as members of some other professional bodies. Parts of the act remained in force until 1977.
Since 1975 all people ‘ordinarily resident in New Zealand’ have been permitted to vote in general elections, but only citizens can run for office. With permanent residents having essentially the same rights as citizens, some choose to become citizens mainly to simplify their overseas travel arrangements.
Revoking and renouncing citizenship
New Zealand citizenship by grant can be revoked for actions considered contrary to the interests of New Zealand. Adults with dual citizenship may renounce their New Zealand citizenship, but the minister of internal affairs can refuse to register such declarations by New Zealand residents.
The rights and obligations of citizens
New Zealand citizens must register to vote and pay their taxes. In return, they may obtain a New Zealand passport, are not barred from any public service jobs, may own rural land regardless of any restrictions on overseas investment, are eligible for a range of educational scholarships and awards, and are free to represent New Zealand at sport.
Pacific Islanders and New Zealand citizenship
In 1901 the Cook Islands and Niue both became New Zealand territory; their inhabitants were already British subjects. Tokelauans also became British subjects in 1916. From 1920, New Zealand administered Western Samoa under a League of Nations mandate. While Western Samoa was not part of the British Empire, its inhabitants were seen as being under British protection, and New Zealand governments at first assumed that they would eventually choose incorporation with New Zealand.
The 1923 and 1928 British Nationality and Status of Aliens (in New Zealand) Acts allowed for the naturalisation of residents of Western Samoa, who were exempted from the usual English language requirement. Tokelau was formally annexed by New Zealand in 1948, and so Tokelauans along with Cook Islanders and Niueans were New Zealand citizens from 1 January 1949, when the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act of 1948 came into force.
Western Samoans after independence
Western Samoa achieved independence in 1962. Thereafter, Western Samoans in New Zealand had uncertain citizenship status. During the 1970s many Western Samoans entered New Zealand on temporary work permits, and some stayed after these expired.
In 1982 the Privy Council reinterpreted the 1923 and 1928 acts and ruled that all Western Samoans born between 1924 and 1948 were British subjects. Therefore, in 1949 they and their descendants (more than 100,000 living people) had become New Zealand citizens. New Zealand was reluctant to give citizenship to almost all Western Samoans, as the Privy Council ruling required. The New Zealand and Western Samoan governments negotiated a compromise. The Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 overturned the Privy Council ruling. But all Western Samoan citizens who were in New Zealand on 14 September 1982, and those subsequently granted permanent residence, became entitled to New Zealand citizenship.