1  November 2018

Concern about the impact on the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement of granting residence to asylum seekers detained on Nauru is rooted in the privileges of New Zealand citizenship. Ministers in Australia speak of precluding entry in perpetuity. That could mean that some refugees ultimately qualify for a restricted type of citizenship. Their situation may be analogous to the visa requirements imposed on New Zealanders with convictions; having been a refugee refused residence in Australia may become a character constraint on the grant of a visa to enter Australia. (But would such a restriction trouble people desperate for a “normal” life?)

A fundamental change in the prerequisite for acquiring citizenship a dozen years ago doesn’t seem to have troubled many New Zealanders. What used to be a jus soli – of automatic citizenship if born in New Zealand – was surrendered with general acceptance to prevent birth tourism – the backdoor access to citizenship by pregnant foreign tourists conveniently being in the country when their child was born. Birth in New Zealand now conveys citizenship only if a parent is lawfully resident here (if neither is a citizen.)

In a much more public way,  in the run-up to the midterm elections next week, President Trump has declared an intention to override by Executive Decree the 14th Amendment right to citizenship of any child born in the United States.  This citizenship by birth, guaranteed by the Constitution, which was once widespread, subsists in much of the Americas – if somewhat unsatisfactorily from Canada to Argentina –  despite the President declaring that “…We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits.”

Although some label this as divisive rhetoric, no European state now has “birthright citizenship”. The last was Ireland which repealed the entitlement in 2005.

New Zealand law changed in 2006, followed in 2007 in Australia.