Pacific Islanders in New Zealand
Regulating the flow and determining the status of Pacific Island migrants became complex when larger numbers came after the Second World War to meet New Zealand’s labour needs.
Some Pacific Islanders are New Zealand citizens and have enjoyed freedom of entry (Cook Islanders and Niueans since 1901; Tokelauans since 1916). Other Pacific Islanders (including Tongans, Fijians and Samoans) have faced barriers. These have changed according to New Zealand’s economic conditions and public opinion. When labour was short, Pacific Islanders had relatively unrestricted access to New Zealand.
As part of a Treaty of Friendship in 1962, immigrants from Western Samoa were admitted under a quota. They had to meet requirements in relation to age, family size, health, character, and accommodation, and have a guarantee of employment before they arrived.
Three-month visas were in place from 1964, and annual quotas were set in 1967. But because the 1960s and early 1970s were years of economic expansion and labour shortages, the temporary visas and quotas were not strictly enforced. While the demand for unskilled labour remained high, the government in effect turned a blind eye to Samoans and other Pacific Islanders arriving on temporary visas and staying on, or arriving in greater numbers than the quotas allowed.
Pacific Island migration in the 1970s
The 1974 immigration policy review reaffirmed the free access to New Zealand of those born in the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau. It also stated that Western Samoa, as a territory formerly administered by New Zealand, ‘holds a special place in the policy’.
By the mid-1970s, demand for Pacific Island labour had diminished. The tolerance towards migrant workers on temporary permits from Western Samoa, Tonga and Fiji came to an end.
The 1974 review sought to make a clear distinction between migrants with a legal right to remain permanently in New Zealand and those who had overstayed after entering on visitor or temporary permits. Enforcing the distinction led to dawn raids on Pacific Island households in Auckland, and other measures.
The statistics of prejudice
A study carried out in 1985–86 was revealing: it showed that whereas Pacific Island people comprised only a third of overstayers, they made up 86% of all prosecutions for overstaying. Citizens from the United States and the United Kingdom who also made up almost a third of those overstaying, represented only 5% of prosecutions.
Entry under quotas
People from the Pacific Islands continued to enter and stay in New Zealand during the late 1970s and 1980s, legally if they could, illegally if they could not. From 2002, under the Samoan quota, 1,100 Samoan citizens could be granted residence each year provided they had a job offer and met other conditions.
A Pacific Access category set quotas for people from Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati to be granted residence in New Zealand. Pitcairn Islanders were considered for residence provided they had a firm job offer in New Zealand.