Under the War Regulations of 1916, during the First World War, no person over the age of 15 could land in New Zealand without a passport or other document establishing his or her nationality or identity.
Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act 1919
Under the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act 1919, those born in the former German and Austro-Hungarian empires were prohibited from entering without a licence issued by the attorney-general. The act also gave the attorney-general the power to prohibit the entry of any person not resident in New Zealand – including a British subject – who was ‘disaffected or disloyal, or of such a character that his presence would be injurious to the peace, order and good government’ of New Zealand. In effect, the act was aimed primarily at Germans, socialists and Marxists.
Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1920
The government willingly met demands to restrict Asian immigration further. Prime Minister William Massey claimed that the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1920 was ‘the result of a deep seated sentiment on the part of a huge majority of the people of this country that this Dominion shall be what is often called a “white” New Zealand.’ 1 Until 1974, this act determined who was allowed to enter New Zealand.
Like the Chinese, Gujarati and Punjabi Indians came originally as sojourners, not intending to settle permanently in New Zealand. In the late 1870s people began migrating from India to Fiji, where they worked as indentured labourers on sugar plantations. Before 1920 some Gujaratis came to New Zealand en route to Fiji, or on their way back to India.
Indian migration remained limited until after the First World War. It is thought that there were around 100 Gujaratis in New Zealand in 1916; by 1921 there were 539, along with 200 Punjabis.
The new principle established by the act was ‘unsuitability’ for settlement in New Zealand. People who were not of British or Irish birth and parentage had to apply in writing for a permit to enter. The minister of customs had the discretion to determine whether any applicant was suitable. ‘Aboriginal natives’ of any part of the British Empire except New Zealand were not British for the purposes of the act. The act gave the government power to waive the permit requirement for particular nationalities.
The 1920 act removed existing language and education tests. The rule that Chinese people leave a thumbprint on their certificates of registration to secure re-entry was lifted, but the poll tax remained in place as ‘a useful extra precaution’. 2 The tax was not abolished until 1944, though it was not applied after 1934.
The 1920 act in practice
The 1920 act was passed primarily to restrict Asian immigration, but Asians were not its only targets. It was also used to curb the entry of other non-British people, particularly southern Europeans such as ‘Dalmatians’ (Croatians) and Italians.
Asian immigration was not choked off entirely under the 1920 act. The wives and children of Indians who were permanent New Zealand residents were allowed to enter. Even in the case of the Chinese, the act was not used to prevent all immigration. In the early 1920s, the government agreed that 100 permits a year would be issued to Chinese people. From 1926, however, entry was limited to the wives or fiancées of New Zealand-born Chinese men.
Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1931
The 1931 Immigration Restriction Amendment Act, passed during the Depression, prevented aliens (as non-British immigrants were still known) from Europe entering New Zealand. The only exceptions were those who had guaranteed employment, a considerable amount of capital, or knowledge and skills ‘which would enable them to rehabilitate readily, but without detriment to any resident of New Zealand’. 3 Because of this act, only a small number of Jewish refugees from Nazism were able to come to New Zealand before the Second World War.
Family migration in the 1930s
In the 1930s, the practice continued of allowing some non-British permanent residents to bring to New Zealand members of their immediate families. But to discourage the growth of a locally born Chinese population, restrictions on family migration remained. In addition, Chinese men found the £100 poll tax for their wives prohibitive.
In 1935 entry permits for the reunification of families of Chinese in New Zealand were introduced, limited to just 10 a year. In 1939, after the occupation of southern China by the Japanese, temporary permits for the wives and children of Chinese men in New Zealand were issued, on payment of a bond of £500. These people were subsequently given permanent residence. After the war, more Chinese people were allowed into New Zealand to join family members.