Oscar Kightley: Why Thiel's NZ citizenship is a bit rich

Oscar Kightley says Peter Thiel's Kiwi citizenship shows how our country is now prepared to kowtow to wealthy individuals.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Oscar Kightley says Peter Thiel's Kiwi citizenship shows how our country is now prepared to kowtow to wealthy individuals.

OPINION: As an immigrant from Samoa, one of the first terms  that I can remember learning in english was "New Zealand citizenship".

Taken in by extended family in West Auckland so that I would be legit and safe from the dawn raids, I thought that my adoption came with citizenship.

And it wasn't until I was 21 and went to apply for a New Zealand passport for the first time, that I was shocked to discover that while I was a permanent resident, I wasn't a citizen.

PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel had his NZ citizenship ceremony in Santa Monica.
GARY CAMERON/REUTERS

PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel had his NZ citizenship ceremony in Santa Monica.

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After 16 more years of procrastination, during which I had to apply for a visa to go anywhere but Samoa, and having finally accepted that I wasn't just here on a really long OE from the islands, I decided to apply for citizenship. 

It involved a robust process that required a lot of patience and a lot of supporting legal documents.  I can still remember the final day of the process, lining up outside the Auckland Town Hall with 400 others from what seemed like every nation in the world.

Inside, a speech from a representative from the Auckland City Council confirmed the wide spread of new citizens who came from everywhere from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe.

The nicest part of the welcome was when we were encouraged to keep hold on to our birth nations' citizenships and not only let New Zealand leave its mark on us, but for us to leave our mark on New Zealand.

The ceremony is carried out in alphabetical order and once your row  makes it to the side of the stage, they call your name and you walk across on your own to collect your certificate of citizenship.

I thought I would find it routine, but it was actually a thrilling and emotional moment.  I'd left one side of the stage  as a permanent resident of New Zealand and, by the time I got to the other side, I was a citizen.

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That it  also seemed such a special moment for every single person going through that ceremony in the Town Hall that day, made me realise how precious a thing New Zealand citizenship is, and that if you weren't born here, it's something you have to earn by clearly demonstrating your commitment and enthusiasm for the place.

Add up whatever it is that billionaire US businessman Peter Thiel has invested in New Zealand, and that is how much a citizenship here can cost.  And now he's got in, other super-rich people around the world can look at this figure and  potentially consider it a worthwhile investment. 

Presumably, it must be in the millions. How lucky are we to hold such expensive passports?  It certainly makes the $180 it costs to renew your passport in New Zealand look very cheap indeed.

Perhaps, it is akin to giving Thiel an honorary degree in recognition of his investments in the country. And that's all good.  Thiel's was such a special exception they even let him have the ceremony in Santa Monica.

My only worry over this is that the normal rules will still apply to the vast majority of people who apply for New Zealand citizenship.

And that whenever there's a story about people being deported from New Zealand because of the rules - like the Indian students seeking sanctuary in an Auckland church because they face deportation thanks to their agents forging documents - the case of Peter Thiel will always be remembered.

We can no longer sneer or look down our nose at smaller countries that kowtow to rich individuals because of how much money they can invest.   New Zealand is one of those countries too.

 - Sunday News

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