A question of citizenship.

I am a US citizen permanent resident in NZ. I got here on  a normal (i.e. not a business or student) visa after going through a “good character” check and because there was an employer vouching for me. I am now beginning the process of taking out NZ citizenship and am amazed by the level of detail and bureaucratic hurdles I need to go through to get it after living in NZ for nearly 15 years (things like the names and last addresses of my long deceased parents and name and address of my long-divorced American ex-wife are just the start). The process is said to take 6-12 months and I need to surrender my US passport during that time. I guess that is a good thing as it verifies my bonafides.

I say this because I have read reports that Mr. Kim Dotcom, the Jabba the Hut of the internet world according to the US government, purportedly has a NZ passport. He also apparently has a Hong Kong passport as well as that of his birth country Germany. These are said to be legitimate, not fraudulent passports.

My understanding is that you have to be a NZ citizen to hold a NZ passport, and that applies even though one may have entered the country in the investor plus scheme by buying 10 million dollars of NZ government bonds. This makes me curious because Mr. Dotcom arrived in NZ in 2010, which means he was granted citizenship very quickly (as a contrast, a friend of mine of British birth lived in NZ for 30 years, married a Kiwi, served in various official roles including as a JP, and it still took him a year to get his NZ citizenship even though he has never been arrested anywhere and had several NZ people of import vouching for his good character). I am thus curious as to how, with his prior convictions and assorted other odd baggage, Mr. Dotcom managed to get a NZ passport so quickly, especially if there are residency and character requirements involved in acquiring citizenship and he is not claiming refugee status. I also wonder if he surrendered his foreign passports during the time his application was being processed because I have read that he traveled extensively after his arrival in NZ.

I also understand that in order to be an MP one has to be a citizen. I remember some minor scandals a few years back surrounding MPs who turned out to be non-citizens, something that forced their resignations. That also makes me curious because there is a new list National MP who may or may not be a NZ citizen as far as I know. He is a decent chap for a Righty and certainly will improve the intellectual calibre of the NAT backbenches, so good on him for making a go of it. But I am not sure that he is a citizen even though he arrived in NZ about a decade ago. I could be wrong and certainly harbor him no malice, but wonder if all the ticks were checked off on his citizenship prior to the election.

More generally, I am just curious about the flexibility of NZ citizenship laws and the process of granting citizenship because I too hope to join the NZ citizen ranks in the near future. Since I do not have 10 million bucks and am not the darling of any political party, can I instead run for local office with my PR status? I already own property, pay taxes, married a Kiwi etc., so if my citizenship application is rejected (presumably on “good character” grounds), can I still make a nuisance of myself at the local political level?

29 thoughts on “A question of citizenship.

  1. I, too, was under the impression one must be an NZ citizen in order to hold an NZ passport. Is Kim Dotcom’s NZ passport genuine or counterfeit?

  2. Chris: That is where it gets interesting, because from what I have read and heard, his NZ passport is legit, as are the other two that he now has had to surrender (although the Crown claims that he has access to other passports and thus poses an imminent flight risk, which is why he continues to be held without bail). Although I think that he is the victim of a US govt beat-up, I remain very curious about the circumstances of that NZ passport acquisition.

  3. You certainly had to be a citizen to get a passport when I tried as a permanent resident back in 1990. In my naivety I imagined that having been here since I was 2 years old I must be a citizen somehow, but was promptly redirected to the British embassy. I got an NZ passport 10 years later, but had to take out citizenship first.

    Still, that was back in 2000 – given that our current approach to immigration seems to be that anyone who can bung the govt a few million is by definition worthy of permanent resident status, there’s no reason to assume citizenship and passports haven’t gone the same way.

  4. You definitely need to be a citizen to get a passport – I’m pretty sure this is the case throughout the world, it certainly is in New Zealand.

    Pablo, are you certain that Dotcom is a NZ citizen? Because if he was, there is no way he could be deported to the USA – New Zealand, again like almost every other country, doesn’t deport its citizens. My impression was that he was a resident but not a citizen. Wikipedia lists him as a dual Finnish-German citizen, as does the Huffington Post. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Dotcom; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/kim-dotcom-email-megaupload-neighbors_n_1227514.html)

    So I’m wondering what your source is regarding his having a New Zealand passport? Do you have a link?

    As for the MPs you mentioned, it wasn’t a case of a sitting MP not being a citizen – rather one of United Future’s list candidates in the 2002 election. She would have become an MP due to her list ranking, but her non-citizenship was picked up before she was sworn in, so technically she never was an MP. Still rather embarassing, but my understanding is that now the Electoral Commission confirms the citizenships of all list candidates when lists are submitted (previously they assumed the parties would do it, but parties do not have access to the citizenship registers).

    As an aside, becoming an MP is one of the few rights that New Zealand citizens have that residents don’t (other than the right to not be deported).

    I’m even more curious about this National MP – who is he? Or, if you’d rather not say, what makes you think he might not be a citizen?

    From memory the period of residence that must be maintained went from 3 years to 5 years in 2007 or 2008, but given that it is possible to be granted residency on arrival in New Zealand, it is quite possible to become a New Zealand citizen within five years. That is presuming one isn’t a New Zealand citizen by descent.

  5. Hmm, seems I was wrong, New Zealand does extradite New Zealand citizens. (I should have been talking about extradition, not deportation, all along – different things) I’m still pretty sure he’s not a citizen, though.

  6. Thanks Hugh, about the various details.

    Local press reports have repeatedly mentioned that Dotcom holds a NZ passport. That makes the citizenship question even more interesting. That, or the press reports, based on Police and Court information, are wrong.

  7. Very strange. I thought the media might be confusing Citizenship with Residency – they’ve been known to do so before.

  8. Pablo, what was it you were mentioning about a culture of impunity? I guess in this case he managed to cross people of greater import than himself. Impunity has its limits.

  9. Chris: Indeed. But the culture of impunity is what it got him into NZ in the first place. Unless it was a very well-orchestrated sting– bring him in under loose immigration and corporate standards in order to set him up for a US extradition request–this simply reflects another instance of that cultural manifestation. Which, to be true, is one reason why I wrote the post.

  10. I don’t think he had a HK passport. He definitely had a residency ID card bought probably through the investment capital scheme. Getting a passport is another step.

  11. THere is a whole load of confusion over this passport issue.

    Only citizens get passports.

    the rich migrant scheme he came in under is only for a temp residence visa. Perm residence comes two years later.

    He came here in 2010 yet his lawyer says the passport was issued in 2010

    In 2010 he was denied a land purchase by the OIO, which means he can’t have been a citizen

    no-one has suggested the passport is false during bail hearings.

    Maybe it’s not a passport but a NZ residence visa endorsement in another passport?

    PS you don’t have to send your US passport in for months on end. They send it back reasonably quickly or you can go get it officially copied in the Auckland office.

  12. Insider: I had considered the possibility that he had a PR visa in his foreign passport (as I do), but have re-read the comments by his lawyer that he has a NZ passport. Perhaps the QC and the cops are confused (since the cops also mentioned the NZ passport as well as other foreign ones). It seems hard to believe that a QC and the cops do not know the difference between a PR visa in a foreign passport and a NZ passport.

    If he has a legit NZ passport but is not a citizen, then someone played loose with the rules. If so, the questions are who and why?

    Good to hear that I will not have to surrender my passport for months on end.

  13. Interesting topic! It was Labour MP for New Plymouth, Harry Duynhoven who was a Dutch citizen, not a NZ citizen, and so ineligible to be an MP (which Labour quickly and retrospectively changed rather than lose an MP – I think they had a slim margin in the House at the time ;) ). Duynhoven is now NP mayor, but that tells us nothing of your elegibility for council Pablo, as HD is now a Kiwi citizen, of course.

    Perhaps the same questions should be asked about how an actor under investigation for the death of someone at a party at his place (vis Michael Barrymore) got NZ citizenship so fast – also under a year IIRC. I believe Labour MP Tim Barnett helped expedite that – it looked very much like a NZ gay politician helping a prominent gay Brit dodge possible prosecution (certainly the family of the deceased were upset about it). A Saffa workmate grumbled about this at the time – his application was taking well over a year to process, unlike Barrymore’s. The lawyer who handled Barrymore’s citizenship issues is now being prosecuted for widespread fraud it seems…

    Same could be said for the Rocky Horror playwright – he got a recent waiver to become a NZ citizen, despite being well over desired age, etc. Seems a nice backhander for ‘making NZ (in)famous’, but the process….?

  14. On what grounds do you suspect this new MP is not a citizen? If there are no grounds for this claim then I think the comment should be removed from your post. As you say, he is a decent chap for a righty, so to suggest, without evidence, that he has been elected to Parliament illegally is pretty low. If you have good grounds to suspect something untoward, then this of course needs to be followed up.

  15. Me Too:

    I am merely speculating on whether all of the MP’s citizenship boxes were ticked before the election based on mixed reports I have heard. I infer nothing, cast no aspersions and make no definitive claims (which I also do not do in Mr. Dotcom’s case). Given the oddities in Mr. Dotcom’s case and the prior experience with people being elected or included on party lists who are not citizens, I am free to ask questions as I see fit and am quite happy to see the record clarified with regard to all MPs.

    The larger issue is whether there is flexibility in granting NZ citizenship and passports, and if so, to who, how and why. There seems to be a bit of a grey area in that regard.

  16. Because this passport issue is so strange and confusing, and I have far more important things to be doing, I decided to take a look at the DIA’s passport site (http://www.passports.govt.nz), and funnily enough, I’m struggling to find any clear statement about who is or is not eligible for a New Zealand passport. Reading through the checklists they certainly seem to imply that one must be an NZ citizen, but I would’ve thought they’d have a clear statement on eligibility sitting in a very obvious space.

  17. Page 2, of the Passport Application form says that “Only New Zealand citizens are entitled to a New Zealand Passport”.


    To receive a grant of New Zealand citizenship he has to normally meet some criteria, listed here.


    It is difficult to see how he can meet the “physically present” criteria (and possibly he would have trouble with “good character”).

    However, if you read the actual Act:

    Then section 9,1,c seems sufficiently broad to allow the minister to grant citizenship “if he feels like it”.

    Presumbably if the minister has corresponded on the issue the documents can be OIA’d? Although they’ll probably claim a privacy exception — but, perhaps, that could be argued to be outweighed by public interest?

  18. “Maybe it’s not a passport but a NZ residence visa endorsement in another passport?”

    I’m thinking this might well be the case, which would again put it down to sloppy reporting. Seems the most likely scenario to me.

    “It was Labour MP for New Plymouth, Harry Duynhoven who was a Dutch citizen, not a NZ citizen, and so ineligible to be an MP (which Labour quickly and retrospectively changed rather than lose an MP – I think they had a slim margin in the House at the time ;) ).”

    Wrong. Duynhoven was a dual citizen. The issue came up because in renewing his Dutch citizenship he had to formally swear allegiance to the Dutch Queen (much like Pablo will, if he successfully becomes a NZ Citizen, have to swear allegiance to Queen Bess). There was an ancient 19th century clause in Parliament’s standing rules that said that any MP who swore allegiance to another monarch lost their seat. The clause was overturned because it was generally agreed by all parties that it was antiquated and that dual citizenship was no obstacle to being an MP (you mention Labour had a majority, but the decision was, IIRC, unanimous)

    And Pablo, are you seriously suggesting that Dotcom was “lured” to New Zealand as part of some long-term sting operation because he can be extradited from NZ but not from Germany? That seems a bit far-fetched.

  19. If for some reason Dotcom DOES have a legitimate New Zealand passport, questions needs to be raised. The current law requires a five year period of residence, although that can be fast-tracked to 20 months in exceptional circumstances. Given that Dotcom was only given residence late in 2010, he is still a number of months short of even meeting the 20-month test.

    It may be a simple case of mis-reporting, but I believe that further scrutiny is warranted.

  20. @Inventory: Probably more than just a procedural failure. When I used to work at the Passport Office, every application had to be matched to a record in the Citizenship registers. If there was no match, it was rejected straight away. It was the first thing we did and would be very, very unlikely to bypass just by oversight – it was basically impossible to program the printers to print without a corresponding citizenship record.

    Of course things might have changed since I quit but I kind of doubt they’ve changed that way.

  21. Pablo, the MP concerned travels on a NZ passport so your speculation is wrong and just repeating gossip.

    Especially since it is easy to figure out who you are writing about the decent thing would be to remove the offending paragraph; people reading your post may not get as far as this comment.

    Also, there doesn’t appear to be a problem with “illegal” MPs – Duynhoven was a NZ citizen, and one prospective list MP from a minor and very amateur party, who as never expected to be elected to parliament, had her citizenship status discovered before she was sworn in. Surely a sign the system works, not is broken.

    No MPs were found to not be citizens and no MP was forced to quit.

  22. I read the judge’s decision denying bail and discovered that Dotcom was granted permanent residency in December 2009 but did not start living continuously in NZ until Sept 2011. The decision mentions two Finnish passports and one German passport but says nothing about a NZ passport. It therefore seems improbable that he would have a legitimate NZ passport based on citizenship unless something very unusual happened. It is therefore puzzling that his QC and the media have reported the existence of a NZ passport. Surely they would have done their homework on such a matter.

    As for the MP–good to know someone will vouch for his citizen bonafides.

    As I said before, the bigger issue is about the flexibility of the NZ citizenship and passport-granting process and whether rules are bent based upon the applicant’s status.

  23. I’ve just belatedly read this discussion. I used to work in Immigration – I left long long before Dotcom came to NZ, so I have no personal knowledge of his case.

    But as someone with previous experience of the procedures, I can assure readers that there is no possibility that Dotcom will be in possession of a NZ passport – his lawyers or the media have got that wrong.

    A NZ passport is the “holy grail” for all immigrants and the Passport Office operate a very tight ship – they will not hand them out unless the applicant is already a NZ citizen, and that requires five years residence just to even apply. This would put an end to those immigrants who leave NZ forever as soon as they get NZ citizenship/passport.

    I’d like NZ to adopt the Swiss system where non-NZ born passport holders would have to maintain residency to keep their citizenship (about 6 months residency every year).

  24. @James: If you do that you are effectively creating a two-tier citizenship system, where citizens born in New Zealand have more rights than those not born here.

    I have a friend who was born in the UK because his parents were working there and moved to NZ when he was two. He’s planning to move overseas to pursue his career as a sound technician. Should he lose his citizenship?

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