Once you have established your new life in New Zealand, even if you have the right to remain permanently under the terms of your residence visa, you may decide to embark on the process of obtaining New Zealand citizenship.

There are a number of benefits to becoming a New Zealand citizen. These range from having the right to possess a New Zealand passport and travel freely on it overseas to being eligible to stand for parliament or represent the country on an international level, for example in sport.

New Zealand citizens are required to obey New Zealand law, pay tax, register to vote and act as a responsible New Zealander. Citizenship is governed by the Citizenship Act 1977 and there are four key ways in which it is possible to obtain it:

By birth: You will need to have been born in the country and, if born after 1 January 2006, have at least one parent who is a New Zealand resident or citizen

By descent: You will need to have been born overseas to a parent who is a New Zealand citizen

By adoption: You will need to have been adopted by a New Zealand citizen

By grant: You will need to apply to the New Zealand government for the granting of citizenship. This will usually require you to have been living and/or working in the country for a minimum of five years in addition to meeting other strict criteria.

Obtaining New Zealand citizenship by grant

The first stage in your journey to becoming a New Zealand citizen is to obtain the right to reside in the country. Applying for a Skilled Migrant Visa is the most common route. This points-based system calculates a ‘score’ based on your skills, qualifications, experience, character, health and age, with those achieving between 100 and the maximum 140 eligible for consideration. A skilled migrant visa provides the right to remain indefinitely in New Zealand.

Other work, business or investment visas may grant you the right to work in New Zealand but do not guarantee residency. However, you may become eligible to apply for residency after a certain period of time depending on the type of visa you possess.

To apply for citizenship you must:

  • Have indefinite entitlement to remain in the country. For most nationalities this will involve having permanent residence, however it should be noted that Australian citizens or permanent residents also have permanent rights to New Zealand residency
  • Intend to continue living in New Zealand upon granting of your citizenship
  • Be of good character
  • Have sufficient knowledge of the English language
  • Demonstrate an understanding of your responsibilities and privileges as a New Zealander
  • Meet specific criteria regarding your physical presence in the country in the preceding five years and also for the 20-month period immediately prior to your application

What happens when you’re granted citizenship

If you are successful in being granted New Zealand citizenship you will be required to attend a citizenship ceremony. These are organised regularly by local councils, although you may choose to attend a larger scale ceremony on a special day such as Waitangi Day, which is the country’s national day and falls on 6 February each year. At the ceremony each new citizen will be required to make the oath of allegiance before the Mayor or another officially designated presiding officer.

Once you have been granted New Zealand citizenship, you can pass it on automatically to your children, including those born overseas.

New Zealand permits its citizens to hold multiple citizenships so under New Zealand law you will not be required to renounce your existing citizenship. Do check, however, that any other country for which you hold citizenship also permits dual or multiple citizenship as some do not, or only permit it in certain circumstances. These may include Poland, Austria, Denmark, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Kuwait and Japan, among others. Do check for up-to-date information before your make your decision to pursue citizenship in New Zealand.

If you wish to travel on a non-New Zealand passport once you have obtained citizenship, you may need to obtain an endorsement of your citizenship in order to demonstrate your right to return to the country. You will need to present your non-New Zealand passport, evidence of your citizenship, your New Zealand passport, a passport-sized photo and a completed application form.

Renunciation or loss of New Zealand citizenship

Citizenship is rarely revoked but if it is discovered that it was obtained fraudulently the Minister of Internal Affairs is likely to pursue this option.

Having made the commitment to become a New Zealand citizen you are unlikely to want to renounce the privilege. However, you may choose to if you move away from the country and have no plans to return, or if you are required to in order to obtain citizenship of a country that does not allow citizenship of another. Do check requirements carefully though, as under New Zealand law you are only permitted to renounce your citizenship if you already have citizenship of another country. This can lead to a potentially insurmountable administrative nightmare if the other country requires you to renounce your New Zealand citizenship before obtaining your new nationality.

With some 20,000 people being granted New Zealand citizenship every year, it is certainly a popular option for those relocating to begin a new life in the country. In recent decades, more UK citizens than any other have successfully obtained New Zealand citizenship, with those from China, Samoa, India, South Africa, Fiji and Taiwan also featuring highly.

To find out more about New Zealand work visas and residency requirements visit www.immigration.govt.nz. For full details of citizenship requirements and applications visit the Department of Internal Affairs website.

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