New Zealand called to right a wrong: Removing a 42-year-old ‘anti-Pacific’ citizenship law articles


9 Jul 2024

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Samoa, tula’i ma sisi ia lau fu’a, lou pale lea!

(Samoa, arise and raise your banner that is your crown!)

On Monday 1st July 2024, Stace Hammond’s Senior Associate and specialist immigration lawyer, Diana Bell presented a submission to the Governance and Administration Select Committee in Auckland in support of the Restoring Citizenship Removed by Citizenship (Western Samoa) 1982 Bill.

Diana is a New Zealand-born Samoan, and a daughter of Samoan migrants who arrived in Wellington, in August 1979. Her mother, Levalasinofoaga Lafoga is from Tafitoala, Upolu, and her father, the late-Kirifi Lafoga is from Sasina, Savai’i.

The Bill

The Bill was introduced by Green Party List MP, Teanau Tuiono with the aim to restore the right of New Zealand citizenship for a group of people born in Samoa whose citizenship was removed through the enactment of the Citizenship (Western Samoa) 1982 Act.

On 10th April 2024, the Bill passed its first reading in Parliament and was referred to the Select Committee for consideration. The Bill received over 24,500 written submissions with Select Committee hearings held in Wellington on the 24th and 26th of June 2024 and in Auckland on the 1st of July 2024.  A Report is due on 10th October 2024.

In her submission, Diana emphasised that the Bill will not only restore New Zealand citizenship to a group of Samoans but will go further to restoring the relationship between New Zealand and Samoa.  A historical relationship governed by the spirit of close friendship.

New Zealand’s period of administration of Samoa was marred by poor decisions, neglect, and tragedy.  Previous New Zealand Governments have addressed past grievances as seen in formal apologies in 2002 and 2021.  But no Government over the last 42 years has seen fit to undo the 1982 Act which cancelled the citizenship of people who were entitled to it.

This Bill as Diana emphasised gives New Zealand the opportunity to finally acknowledge this mistake of the past, to fulfil its duty of care towards Samoa as first mandated, and which continued even after Samoa gained Independence through the Treaty of Friendship.

Brief history

From 1920 until 1962, Samoa was administered by New Zealand first as an integral portion of its own territory under the mandate of the League of Nations until 1947 and secondly, as a trust territory under the United Nations Charter. 

The status of Samoan citizens during the mandate and trusteeship periods was confused by New Zealand’s understanding of its own mandated powers and its legislatures of the 1920s and 1960s.  When New Zealand established its own citizenship in 1948, New Zealand continued to administer Samoa until its Independence in 1962.

But even then, the status of Samoan citizens in New Zealand remained unclear.


It would take 20 years to have the Privy Council in Falema’i Lesa’s case to authoritatively interpret the legislation.  Lesa was working as a kitchen hand in Wellington when she was threatened with deportation.  She took her case for citizenship to court and in July 1982, after a five-year battle, a Privy Council ruling found her a citizen of New Zealand. 

The Privy Council further held that all Samoans born between 1924 and 1948 were British subjects and that in 1949, they and their descendants had become New Zealand citizens.

The New Zealand Government swiftly passed into law the 1982 Act removing citizenship to those born between 1924 and 1948, fearing mass migration.  This was the same Government that had just won an election by campaigning against Pacific immigration and had greatly expanded the dawn raids.

At the time, the solution was thought to have some pragmatism. The Samoan government supported the law, perhaps fearing depopulation. It allowed gaining citizenship in New Zealand easier if Samoans could obtain residence without the need to meet other requirements.

But this did not change the character of the law. New Zealand passed a law in 1982 stripping people not just of the right to enter New Zealand, but of their New Zealand citizenship.

For consideration

In her submission, Diana urged the Committee to:

  1. Allow those whose New Zealand citizenship was removed by the 1982 Act to be eligible for citizenship as of right. It is speculated to be less than 5,000.
  2. Allow the children of those directly impacted to claim citizenship by descent.
  3. Consider extending the period to include those born until Samoa gained its Independence in 1962, given Samoa remained under the administration of New Zealand until then.
  4. As part of the wider considerations for the Bill, to review New Zealand’s immigration policy settings that directly affect Samoan citizens, including:
  • Samoa Quota Resident Visas, which currently allows 1,650 Samoan citizens to obtain residence each year.  Yet the annual quota is not being filled.  The statistics from 2017 until the last financial year show a major shortfall:
2017/18Samoa QuotaApproved1107
2017/18Samoa QuotaDeclined39
 Total 1146
2018/19Samoa QuotaApproved1101
2018/19Samoa QuotaDeclined18
 Total 1119
2019/20Samoa QuotaApproved621
2019/20Samoa QuotaDeclined48
 Total 669
2020/21Samoa QuotaApproved9
2020/21Samoa QuotaDeclined6
 Total 15
2022/23Samoa QuotaApproved597
2022/23Samoa QuotaDeclined114
 Total 711
  • Recognised Seasonal Workers (RSE) Scheme where Samoa has consistently been one of the top 3 suppliers of labour under the scheme since 2007.  Yet it has drawn criticism for the exploitation of workers.  In the year 2021-2022, saw 3,334 Samoans take part
  • There are estimated to be around 14,000 without valid visas in New Zealand.  Samoa ranks second highest at about 1,500.  Diana explained to the Select Committee that often these cases present significant humanitarian circumstances, and as upheld in her clients appeals to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal and requests granted by the Minister.

5. Having heavily concessional residence categories and humanitarian categories specifically open to those Samoan citizens who would have qualified for citizenship but for the 1982 Act.

Currently, more than 187,000 people in New Zealand identify themselves as being of Samoan ethnicity.  Diana was privileged to contribute to this talanoa on behalf of her aiga, her clients and the people of Samoa.


On 10th April 2024, the Bill passed its first reading in Parliament and was referred to the Select Committee for consideration. The Bill received over 24,500 written submissions with Select Committee hearings held in Wellington on 24th, 26th June 2024, and 9th July 2024,  and in Auckland on 1st July 2024.  A Report is due on 10th October 2024.

About the Author

Diana Bell

Senior Associate

Diana is a specialist immigration lawyer with over 14 years experience.  As a daughter of Samoan migrants she has a unique understanding and empathy for those...

Diana Bell


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