Reasons for majority of 'exceptional' NZ citizenship grants unexplained
ANALYSIS There is cause for fresh doubt over whether New Zealand has been selling citizenship.
Internal Affairs acknowledged today that fewer than half of the 138 people granted citizenship in "exceptional circumstances" by the Government since 2008 were approved on humanitarian grounds.
The statement comes in the wake of controversy over a citizenship grant to United States billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel, who helped fund US President Donald Trump's election campaign and was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011.
A clause in the Citizenship Act allows the Minister of Internal Affairs to grant people citizenship in "exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature".
But Internal Affairs spokesman Steve Corbett said "humanitarian reasons are less used than others".
He confirmed fewer than half of the grants had been on humanitarian grounds.
The department provided that limited information after being pressed on its decision to refuse an Official Information Act request for a more detailed breakdown.
Internal Affairs said it "didn't record electronically the reason each application is being considered" and that going through each of the 138 files would involve too much work.
At least in one respect, Peter Thiel's citizenship application does not appear to be the tip of iceberg.
The department said on Wednesday that Thiel was the only adult who had been granted citizenship under the exceptional-circumstances clause in recent years without ever having had any intention to reside in New Zealand.
So the others granted citizenship under the "other" category – even if they may perhaps have used wealth or influence to pull the necessary strings – would appear to have at least some intention of becoming part of the New Zealand community.
In the case of Thiel, it is probably only fair to recognise that it was a slightly different time in New Zealand when Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy chose to grant him citizenship in June 2011.
The Global Financial Crisis was still in full swing, the country was still working out how to pay the rebuild costs of the Christchurch earthquake which had devastated the city four months earlier, and economic pragmatism was very much the order of the day.
Thiel had recently invested $4 million in what was then a highly-speculative Kiwi cloud-accounting firm called Xero whose shares were trading at $1.54 – less than a tenth of their current value.
He had letters of support from businessmen Rod Drury and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.
It is possible to see how a one-off exception was made.
Thiel's citizenship has become a focus of public attention (and rightly so) because he is financier and supporter of Donald Trump, a politician whose rise to power would also have been impossible to predict when Thiel was granted citizenship in 2011.
Despite all that, Internal Affairs' admission that the "exceptions" clause in the Citizenship Act has not be been used for what seems to have been Parliament's prime intent – humanitarian reasons – is awkward.
It means we can't close the chapter on the citizenship-for-sale book just yet.