Story: Immigration regulation

Page 4. 1946–1985: gradual change

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The 1946 Population Report

In 1946 a select committee was set up to look at ways to increase the population of New Zealand. Their report provided the principles for immigration regulations until the early 1970s. It was accepted that although most of New Zealand’s labour needs could be met through natural population growth, some immigrants would be needed to fill specific labour shortages. Preference was explicitly for people of British stock. If numbers of British immigrants fell short, people from Scandinavia or Northern Europe would be considered.

Free passage – but not for all

In 1947, in the drive to find more workers, the government introduced a scheme to encourage immigrants – at first from the United Kingdom only. Free passage was granted to suitable British people from the armed forces, and assisted passage to suitable young, single migrants. As the labour shortage continued, this scheme was extended in 1950 to include Dutch, Danish, Swiss, Austrian and German people under 35 years. In 1952–53 a total of 29,000 migrants arrived (over 2,700 of them Dutch).

Continuing restrictions on Asian migration

Post-war immigration regulations continued to discriminate against Asians. A Department of External Affairs memorandum in 1953 stated: ‘Our immigration is based firmly on the principle that we are and intend to remain a country of European development. It is inevitably discriminatory against Asians – indeed against all persons who are not wholly of European race and colour. Whereas we have done much to encourage immigration from Europe, we do everything to discourage it from Asia.’ 1

Immigration Amendment Act 1961

In the 1960s tentative steps were taken towards a non-discriminatory immigration policy. Under the 1961 Immigration Amendment Act, British and Irish immigrants, along with other non-New Zealand citizens (except Australians, who could enter freely) were required to have a permit before entering New Zealand. In practice, the permit was only a formality for Britons and Irish: they were issued with permits on arrival. Nevertheless, for the first time, the 1961 act put British and non-British people on the same footing when they sought to enter New Zealand.

The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement 1973

From 1961 only Australians had unrestricted entry to New Zealand. This was a long-standing right, established in 1840 when New Zealand became a British colony like Australia. Reciprocal travel arrangements, beginning in the 1920s, formalised this free movement from one country to the other. In 1973, the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement allowed Australian and New Zealand citizens to enter each other’s countries (to visit, live, work or remain indefinitely) without having to apply for a permit.

Immigration policy review of 1974

In 1971 Norman Kirk, who became prime minister in 1972, argued that New Zealand’s future lay with Asia and the Pacific. He suggested that New Zealand needed an immigration policy that ignored prospective migrants’ race, colour and religion.

After the immigration policy review of 1974, British migrants, like all others, were required to obtain a permit before they left their homelands. The British and Irish were now on the same footing as the nationals of other countries.

Rhetoric and practice

Officially, from 1974 applicants were granted permanent entry into New Zealand on the basis of the demand for their skills and qualifications. But although there was a distinct shift away from racism in official rhetoric, in practice, migrants from the traditional source countries (Britain and northern European countries) continued to be favoured.

By 1978 three grounds for entry were in place: occupation, family reunification and humanitarian considerations. Provision was also made for business migrants with skills and capital, and people distinguished in the arts, sciences or public life.

Language tests

From 1920 to 1974 proficiency in English was not required for entry, but those with other native languages still found it difficult to make a written application in English.

After 1974, when migrants were to be drawn from a wider range of countries, there was no English language requirement. However, in later years knowledge of English did make entry easier. Language skills were assessed at interviews and some knowledge of English was required under a points system.

  1. Quoted in Stuart William Greif, ed., Immigration and national identity in New Zealand: one people, two peoples, many peoples? Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1995, p. 39. › Back
How to cite this page:

Ann Beaglehole, 'Immigration regulation - 1946–1985: gradual change', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 May 2021)

Story by Ann Beaglehole, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 18 Aug 2015