Acquiring the status – and rights – of British subjects was increasingly prized as the British Empire prospered during the 19th century. Yet the number of ‘alien friends’ (or non-British immigrants) naturalised as British subjects in New Zealand was never large: just 13,000 in total by 1925, an annual average of 170 (excluding the First World War period) and less than 1% of the then population. Most non-British immigrants were apparently content to remain ‘resident aliens’.
Almost two-thirds of the 650 people naturalised between 1855 and 1866 were Germans. The next largest source country was France, with 38. There were 56 from Scandinavian countries. The only non-European was John Tong, a Wellington cabinet-maker naturalised in 1866, who was a native of Canton (now Guangzhou), China.
By the late 19th century the balance had shifted, reflecting more recent migrant influxes. Of the 3,000 people naturalised between 1882 and 1894, nearly two-fifths were Scandinavians and a third Germans. Easily the next largest group was 298 Chinese, for whom naturalisation eased travel between New Zealand and China.
‘My king is New Zealand’
Arnold and Tamara Green came to New Zealand in 1948 from Poland. Neither had any hesitation about becoming New Zealand citizens. Arnold says: ‘We are still technically Polish citizens – that is the rule of Poland – but they know very well that I am a citizen of New Zealand. A man can only have one king, and my king is New Zealand.’ Tamara agrees: ‘I never had any hesitation about it. When we decided to come to New Zealand, from the first day we were quite determined that this is going to be our home. That we were starting a family, and this is going to be the country of our children.’ 1
Of the 6,000 naturalised in the first two decades of the 20th century, about a third were Scandinavians, a quarter were Austro-Hungarians (most came from a small area of central Dalmatia) and a fifth Germans. The only significant groups of ‘race aliens’ naturalised in this period were 147 Syrians (Lebanese) and 146 Chinese.
Some 3,250 naturalisation certificates were issued between the world wars, roughly half the previous annual rate. About 30% went to Yugoslavs (nearly all Dalmatians), 25% to Scandinavians, and 10% each to Germans and Italians. After 1951, Chinese could again become naturalised.
During the third quarter of the 20th century, about a third of the aliens naturalised were Dutch; the next largest group, at around 10% of annual totals of 1,000 to 1,500, was the Chinese.