Assisted immigration, 1947-75

Page 2 – Peopling New Zealand

Increasing immigration

At the end of 1918, William Massey's government revived a pre-war immigration scheme and began advertising for immigrants in Britain. The international economic collapse in 1929 dragged New Zealand's economy down with it, though, and depression set in during the early 1930s. After 1929 the assisted immigration scheme was to all intents and purposes in abeyance, although domestic servants continued to be given assistance until 1931. Only 125 people were assisted to New Zealand after that year until the declaration of war in 1939.

In the 1920s and 1930s, interested groups, such as the Dominion Settlement and Population Association, had tried to generate some public discussion about New Zealand's population. The annual Pakeha population increase was falling by the late 1920s and this led to calls for increased immigration. The Labour government, elected in 1935, did not have immigration high on its list of priorities, and after 1939 it had more pressing issues to consider, even though a shortage of labour became worse during the war.

The Dominion Population Committee

In December 1945, however, the government set up the Dominion Population Committee to investigate ways of increasing the country's population. When the committee reported back to parliament in September 1946 its recommendations were cautious. It favoured increasing the population by natural means and concluded that immigration could not really solve the problem of peopling the country. It did acknowledge that there were many job vacancies, but argued that the extreme housing shortage would hamper the introduction of any assisted immigration scheme. In fact, New Zealand's population increased dramatically after 1945 as a consequence of both the post-war 'baby boom' and immigration.

Administering the scheme 

An assisted scheme for immigrants from Britain was introduced in July 1947, and large numbers of people also began arriving on their own initiative. Bert Bockett was appointed Secretary for Labour in April 1947. The Labour Department was responsible for setting up and administering the assisted immigration scheme, and one of Bockett's responsibilities was to chair the government-appointed Immigration Advisory Council which advised the government on the numbers of immigrants required, whether the scheme could be extended, and other changes in policy.

The scheme was extended to the Netherlands and some other European countries in 1950, and in 1964 Bockett was awarded the Oliver Van Noort medallion by the Dutch government for services to the Netherlands.

Prospective immigrants were interviewed by Immigration Branch staff - for those living in London, this happened at New Zealand House. Vera Donoghue, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1966, recalls her interview as being very formal.

'They asked you, more or less, why you wanted to come to New Zealand. I said for a different lifestyle. I think because I was single, that was another reason I got out easy.'

She was also asked about her health.

'That's what they were most interested in, I think – that you weren't going to take any dreaded disease over to New Zealand – TB, polio or any chest complaints. And that you were going to be a hard worker.'

She had to have a full medical and a chest X-ray, both of which she paid for herself, although initially the New Zealand government had paid for these.