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From 1840 until 1 January 1949 MOST people in New Zealand (including Maori) were British subjects/citizens. Non-British were ‘Aliens’. Those excluded from the state’s definition of citizenship were often seen as ‘suspect’, especially in wartime.

Through Naturalisation aliens could become citizens.

In 1947 New Zealand adopted the British Statute of Westminster (1931) and in 1948 passed a number of acts to institute New Zealand citizenship.

From 1 January 1949 people were designated either New Zealand citizens or ‘Aliens’, requiring either New Zealand passports or those of other countries.

In 1977 a review of citizenship and residency removed the term ‘alien’ from official use. Increasingly the focus has been on citizenship, or residency, or various other more temporary arrangements.


Maori were guaranteed British citizenship by the Treaty of Waitangi, and this was confirmed by the Native Rights Act 1865 (though the act was primarily concerned to bring Maori under British law).

Since New Zealand was from 1840 a British colony, British citizenship applied. Those who were not British were aliens and to become British citizens they needed to go through a process called naturalisation. The only uncertainty over citizenship came with people, not clearly British in ethnic origin, who were born in other British colonies or protectorates.

Apart from Chinese and other Asians migrating to New Zealand, there was little restriction on aliens or naturalisation before the First World War began in 1914. Wartime regulations began tighter control of aliens which continued until the Citizenship Act 1977 removed the term from official use, though it was not until 1986 that all people wishing to enter New Zealand did so as equals.


Passports are the official documents used to show citizenship when travelling.

Archives New Zealand holds no passport-related records useful to family historians since passport applications are normally destroyed. Those which survive are for Walter Nash and Keith Holyoake [IA 69/8 & 9]. A file concerning the search for Jean Batten 1986-87 also includes her 1974 passport application [AAAC 6859/1].

There are various other correspondence and policy files concerned with the issuing of passports but they are of very little use to family historians.

Administration of Naturalisation and Alien Laws

A number of government departments were involved in the administration of naturalisation and aliens laws:

Access to Naturalisation and Alien Files

Access to Naturalisation files is restricted until 100 years after the birth of the person documented or 40 years after death, whichever is sooner. Permission to access restricted files is to be obtained from:

Director Citizenship NZ
PO Box 10 526

Access to most individual Alien files is restricted until 100 years after the birth of the person documented. Permission to access restricted files is gained from Archives New Zealand.
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Naturalisation is the process by which a non-citizen becomes a citizen of a country. Most people in New Zealand were British citizens until 1948. Up to then naturalisation gave British citizenship. After the beginning of New Zealand citizenship in 1949, naturalisation gave New Zealand citizenship.

Archives New Zealand holds naturalisation records dating from the early 1840s. Later Naturalisation records, especially from 1939, are often closely linked to Alien records.

After New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947, it had to establish its own citizenship distinct from British citizenship. The British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act and the Aliens Act, both 1948, allowed any alien, except Chinese, to become naturalised New Zealand citizens. The process was simpler for British citizens than for others.

Naturalisation 1840-1866

From 1840 to 1866 there was little formal requirement for naturalisation except residence in New Zealand and an application for British citizenship.

An Internal Affairs Department register includes all naturalisations 1840-1866.

Register of Persons Naturalised before 1948 [IA 52/26, REPRO 1646 & 1647]

For 1840-1866, references in the register (column 9) are to application files 1844-1853 [eg: 1852/1057] or to statute 1858-1866 [eg: Act... or Vict...].

These naturalisations were made by ordinance 1844-1853 (Ordinances of the Legislative Council) and by Act of Parliament 1858-1866 (Statutes of New Zealand), both published.

Correspondence about these applications for naturalisation may be found in Colonial Secretary records (Internal Affairs indexes [IA 3/2], registers [IA 3/1], files [IA 1] and a few in New Munster registers and files [NM 9 & 8]).


The published Ordinances of naturalisations 1844-1853 include 361 people. Most lists have just the names and no other information.

16 July 1844 p388-9          126 people (all German)
3 April 1845 p390-2           135 (all German)
8 October 1846 p200         12
14 October 1847 p296       1
18 November 1848 p309     8
23 August 1849 p395         3
17 July 1851 p342-3          13
3 January 1853 p373-5      63


In the published Statutes families are often grouped, but the lists are not alphabetical and they cover varied periods. Entries include: date of proclamation, name, country of origin, occupation, residence, and date naturalisation took effect, usually the date of arrival in New Zealand.

14 September 1854 – 28 people, 1841-1854
15 September 1855 – 13 people, 1852-1855
7 July 1856 – 15 people, 1853-1855
18 August 1858 – 62 people, 1845-1858
2 November 1860 – 61 people, 1840-1860
14 December 1863 – 110 people, 1853-1863
30 October 1865 – 109 people, 1847-1865
8 October 1866 – 63 people, 1857-1866
10 October 1867 – correction to previous entry 1866

Naturalisation 1866-1913

The Aliens Act 1866 established a new procedure. Applicants submitted a ‘memorial’ or application for naturalisation, usually giving name, age, birthplace, residence, occupation and length of residence in New Zealand. The application was considered by government officials and ratified by the minister.

The Colonial Secretary/Department of Internal Affairs was responsible for naturalisation from 1866, and records for 1866-1913 are to be found in year/number format in the correspondence files of that department [IA 1]. Year/number file references are found in Column 9 of:

Register of Persons Naturalised before 1948
[IA 52/26, REPRO 1646 & 1647]

It may be important to check variant spellings of a surname since many people altered the spelling of their names, or clerks made errors of transcription. Furthermore, the register is not always in strict alphabetical order.

The fee for naturalisation had been set at £1 (one pound), but this was reduced to 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) by the Aliens Amendment Act 1882, except for Chinese. In 1892 the naturalisation fee was abolished, except for Chinese. They were not allowed to be naturalised 1908-1951.

Increased requirements for naturalisation

The requirements for naturalisation tended to increase over time:

Naturalisation 1913-1948

The filing systems of the Internal Affairs Department relating to naturalisation changed in 1913 and twice more in this period, though all naturalisations from this period should be recorded in:

Register of Persons Naturalised before 1948 [IA 52/26, REPRO 1646 & 1647]

Naturalisation in World War I

Naturalisation virtually ceased in World War I. In some cases, under the Revocation of Naturalisation Act 1917, the citizenship rights of naturalised subjects were revoked or suspended. Later those rights might be restored under a new file number.

The Register of Aliens [AAAC 6159/1; REPRO 1658], compiled and published by the Department of Statistics in 1917, includes a substantial proportion of people who had previously been naturalised but who, as aliens in origin, were regarded as potentially suspect in wartime. Most did not lose citizenship.


Naturalisation after World War I

Naturalisation after World War I required the same procedures as before, though in time requirements were tightened up. From 1928 applicants for naturalisation needed five years’ residence out of the previous eight, an official certificate of good repute, and to pass a test in English.

Filing systems changed twice more in the 1930s, but all naturalisations 1919-1948 should be recorded in:

Register of Persons Naturalised before 1948 [IA 52/26, REPRO 1646 & 1647]

Naturalisation virtually ceased in World War II and the government took powers to suspend or revoke earlier naturalisation as a means of controlling suspected ‘enemy aliens‘
After the war, naturalisation procedures continued as before 1939, until the major changes of 1947-1949.

Naturalisation of Women and Children

The naturalisation of children and women 1924-1946:

Naturalisation 1949-1981

Under the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act and the Aliens Act, both 1948, any alien, except Chinese, could become a naturalised New Zealand citizen. Naturalisation of Chinese people was not allowed from 1908 to 1951.

From 1 January 1949 when New Zealand citizenship was officially established, an ‘alien’ was defined as someone who was not a New Zealand citizen, and not British, British protected, or Irish.

Registers of Persons Naturalised 1949-1981

Archives New Zealand offices hold copies of Registers of Naturalisation (produced by the Internal Affairs Department), which are the main index to naturalisation files held in Wellington.

Register of Persons Naturalised 1949-1968 [IA 52/28]
Register of Persons Naturalised 1969-1977 A-L [IA 52/29]
Register of Persons Naturalised 1969-1977 M-Z [IA 52/30]
Register of Persons Naturalised 1978-1981 A-L [IA 52/31]
Register of Persons Naturalised 1978-1981 M-Z [IA 52/32]

When searching these registers it is important to check for variant spellings of a surname.

Naturalisation Files

From 1938 to 1966 the Registers of Persons Naturalised (above) give references in the format: 115/number. The actual file reference is: IA 1 115/number (for example: IA 1 115/1679).

Over the years 1966 & 1967 a new filing system for naturalisation files was phased in. From what was called Register 174 they are held in a different series: [IA 51]. These files have a different sort of numbering as well, so a file for a naturalisation in 1969 might be, for example: IA 51 R186/P181 (where R = Register and P = Page).

Other Files Relating to Naturalisation

Other sub-series of files relating to naturalisation were also created from 1938 by the Internal Affairs Department, and they contain information about individuals, some from before 1938. Many can be found by name searches on ARCHWAY.

A further group of records is:

Certificates of Naturalisation

Duplicate copies of the actual Letters of Naturalisation or Certificates of Citizenship are held for the period 1867-1979 [IA 53/1-368]. These certificates are bound in books so they can not be photocopied.
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An alien in New Zealand before 1914 was merely someone who did not have British citizenship. Apart from Chinese and to a lesser extent other Asians, there was, for many years, little restriction on aliens. They often contributed significantly to New Zealand life and many became naturalised British citizens.

World War I

However, large-scale international warfare, beginning with World War I in 1914, marked a change in attitudes towards aliens, and a change in status for many of them. ‘Enemy’ aliens were regarded with considerable suspicion in wartime. During World War I attention was focused most on people from Germany and Austria-Hungary, the main ‘enemy nations’.
Wartime regulations allowed aliens (non-citizens) to be detained or their activities monitored and restricted. The process of putting into effect various regulations and acts resulted in a considerable volume of records to do with both policy and action towards aliens.

World War II

Alien regulation was suspended in 1923, but re-imposed at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Again, a variety of regulations, acts, and official bodies dealt with aliens and created many records. As in World War I some aliens were interned. The main focus was on people from Germany, Austria and Italy, as well as places conquered by Germany. There were very few Japanese in New Zealand.

After World War II

After World War II the numbers of those who were aliens in New Zealand was initially increased by the creation of separate New Zealand citizenship on 1 January 1949. Registration of aliens was confirmed by the Aliens Act 1948 and continued until it was repealed by the Citizenship Act 1977.

Aliens in World War 1

After the outbreak of World War I, the government gazetted regulations which allowed aliens to be registered, supervised and detained. All aliens had to report to and register at the nearest police station and might be interned.

A variety of agencies collected records about aliens (& alien prisoners of war). Records were moved between government departments and some records overlap with or include items from earlier or other records. Some aliens ended up with more than one file.

An Alien Enemies Commission was established on 8 June 1915, first under the Department of Internal Affairs [AAAC], and later Justice [AAAB], to hear objections by aliens to their designated status (such as ‘disloyal’ or ‘enemy’ aliens) and to hear claims by aliens for exemption from internment. Many of the records listed below were under the control of the Alien Enemies Commission at some time.

Register of Aliens

[AAAC 6159/1; REPRO 1658]

This volume was compiled and published by the Department of Statistics in 1917.

Details recorded include: name, sex, age, conjugal condition (marital status), birthplace, years in New Zealand, allegiance (BN–British Naturalised, or F–Foreign), occupation, address, file number. The files themselves do not exist.

Alien Files

Personal Files of Enemy Aliens 1914-1922 (687 total) [AAAB 482/1-70]
These files, which come from other series such as 445 & 449, are listed on ARCHWAY. They refer to those who were interned, either as aliens or as prisoners of war. A nominal card index 1914-c1930 [AAAC 443]. lists name, nationality and POW number only.

Multiple Number Subject Files 1914-1948
[AAAB 449/1-5]
Most of the individuals originally listed in this series have been included in AAAB 482 and should be accessed through that series, using ARCHWAY (about 700 names listed). However, a few individual files remain listed in the original series.

In this series there are also more general files relating to aliens, which may mention individuals, such as:

Numerical Subject Files on Aliens 1915-1918 [AAAR 472/1-4)]
A few general files and 58 files on specific aliens – cases investigated by the Alien Enemies Commission 1915-1918. Often the files on people consist mainly of police reports. Files may be accessed through a Register of correspondence regarding enemy aliens 1915-1918 [AAAR 494/1 or J 2/34] which is held in the Register Room, Wellington.

Also held are copies of schedules of cases referred to the Alien Enemies Commission, with some notes about decisions. [AAAR 490]

Personal and subject files relating to Aliens 1914-1921
[AAAB 478/1a-12z]
These include both files on individuals investigated and more general files. The 586 files may be found through name searches on ARCHWAY.

Copies of Reports to Alien Enemies Commission 1915

5 individuals only – name search on ARCHWAY [AAAB 479/1]

Various files on Aliens and Prisoners of War [AD 1 59]
These files were created by the Army Department and include both general and specific files. There are a few files referring to individuals, and others may have specific details on individuals, for example:

This is a Lands & Survey Department register which records name of applicant, date, nature of application, file number, and decision.

Yugoslav Aliens 1917-1918

During the First World War there was some official doubt about the suitability of ‘Yugoslavs’ for the armed forces or Home Service. The parts of Europe they had come from, such as Dalmatia and Croatia, were within the Empire of Austria-Hungary, an enemy nation.

In December 1917 a scheme was begun to investigate, register and supervise ‘Jugo-Slavs’ (as it was often spelt), naturalised or not. John Cullen became Commissioner in charge of the Jugo-Slav Organisation Branch of the Defence Department.

The Branch records include: correspondence with private employers of Yugoslavs; correspondence on and profiles of Yugoslavs in Dargaville and elsewhere; correspondence about notices of service for Yugoslavs, by region. [AAAB 488]

Other relevant files were created by the Justice Department:

On 24 June 1918 additional war regulations were gazetted which led to the creation of an Alien Service Branch of the Defence Department, which supplanted the Jugo-Slav Organisation Branch. The Alien Service Branch was given the power to direct all enemy aliens, whether naturalised or not, into employment specified by the government. Many enemy aliens had already been interned and the regulations were aimed at the Yugoslav community.

All Yugoslavs of military service age were registered and directed into employment in public works such as railway construction or drainage projects, or into work with other approved employers such as local bodies.
Some Army Department correspondence files 1918-1919 relate to the deployment of Yugoslav labour and the implementation of the additional war regulations. [AD 86]

Aliens in World War II

Regulation of aliens ceased in 1923, but it was resumed under the Aliens Control Emergency Regulations 1939. All aliens over 16 years were required to register. This system of registration continued until 1948 (and a new system until 1977). Some people registered during the war were later re-registered under the new system in 1948 or later, and files of aliens in World War II may be found in
post-war records.

Alien files and other records were created during World War II by various government departments/agencies. Most records are held in Wellington. Other offices hold a few local alien records.

Aliens Tribunal

In July 1940 an Aliens Tribunal was established to investigate whether aliens should be interned, and if so, at what stage of the war. Records include:

Aliens Authorities & Aliens Appeal Tribunal

In October 1940 the Aliens Tribunal was replaced by regional Aliens Authorities, each a private individual, who were to classify all enemy and certain non-enemy aliens in their districts. The same month an Aliens Appeal Tribunal was established to hear appeals against Authorities’ decisions. Since the Authorities were private individuals, few records came to Archives
New Zealand.

Alien Files

By July 1942 some 4000 people were identified for internment if invasion occurred, but only about 180 aliens were interned, mostly on Somes Island (Matiu), though also in Pahiatua 1943-1944. Files are held for most aliens either registered or interned.

Other Departmental Records

Some of these records include information on individual aliens, internees and prisoners of war; others give context and background.

Army Department

General files about aliens & foreign Prisoners of War and internment [AD 1 336/1 & 336/3]. Included in this material is a general file:

External Affairs

Health Department

War (various files)

Aliens 1949-1977

Registration of Aliens continued after the Second World War, initially under the same legislation and regulations as during the war.

In 1947 New Zealand adopted the Statute of Westminster (passed in the British Parliament in 1931) and in 1948 passed the ‘British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act’ and the ‘Aliens Act’, to institute New Zealand citizenship. From 1 January 1949 people were designated either New Zealand citizens or ‘Aliens’, requiring either New Zealand passports or those of other countries.

Further changes to the registration of aliens were made by the ‘British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Amendment Act’ 1959.
The registration of aliens continued until the Citizenship Act 1977 when the term ‘alien’ was discarded and the focus placed on citizenship
and residency.

Alien Files 1949-1977

Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds files referring to individuals who were required to register as aliens under the Aliens Act 1948. [AAAC 504]
A card index, in two series, of all those deemed alien 1949-1977, gives access to these alien files.
1. All those who registered as aliens 1949-1977, but who were no longer recorded as aliens when the term was discarded in 1977. [AAAC 960]
2. All those still registered as aliens when the term was discarded in 1977. [AAAC 961]

Other Alien Records

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Although there were some constraints on Asians generally, the only people who were really restricted in terms of citizenship were the Chinese. Legal restrictions affected their migration to and from New Zealand, and their lives in this country from 1881
until 1986.

The main records relating to Chinese are Alien and Naturalisation files, and Immigration records from the Labour Department archives.
Many general records of interest to family historians, such as twentieth century immigration records [SS 1], Notices of Intention to Marry [BDM 20], Probates and Coroners Reports, can also provide information on Chinese New Zealanders.


Chinese labourers first arrived in 1866, having been invited by the Otago provincial government to re-work the gold fields of southern New Zealand. They were not assisted immigrants, so there are usually no immigration records. Most Chinese then, and later, came to New Zealand via Australia.

In the 1870s, when strong anti-Chinese feeling first appeared in New Zealand, many were still living in Otago, but more than 1000 were also on the West Coast goldfields.

There were three other periods when Chinese were allowed into New Zealand in significant numbers: after World War I 1918-1920, at the beginning of World War II 1939-1940 as refugees, and for a few years after World War II 1948-1951, but otherwise restrictions remained. Many of those who came were ‘students’ or relatives of Chinese already living in New Zealand.

The poll tax was abolished in 1944 and in 1951 the government permitted the naturalisation of Chinese in New Zealand again. However, the number of Chinese immigrants remained relatively small – mostly chain migration of family members – and it was not until 1986 that the immigration status of Chinese and Europeans was made the same.


Some records were destroyed in the Hope Gibbons fire in 1952. The following existing records are specifically concerned with Chinese:

Labour Department records [L 24 to 31] can provide information on Chinese migration. Access may be restricted. The most useful series of records are:

The archives of the Department of Customs, Dunedin District Office, hold a few alien records which include many Chinese (and some others who were not British):

Wardens’ Court records also include information on Chinese in the goldfields.
Download the PDF version here: Citizenship
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