In May 1992 I was able to fulfil a childhood dream and visit Australia. Nanny, my paternal grandmother, almost chose Australia over the US and was very excited about my trip “I’ve always wanted to go there!” she told me over the phone. In my eyes Nanny is was pretty much perfect, so anything that she loved I loved too. This is the woman who gave me my love of pretty much any raw vegetable. I still eat almost a kilo of raw carrots every week. If Australia entranced her, it would entranced me.
There was a wild colonial boy…
The Aussie trip was a package tour for travel agents (a “fam” or familiarization tour) sponsored by Air New Zealand. Our itinerary was set by our hosts: en route to Sydney and Melbourne we would be stopping in Rarotonga (where?) and New Zealand (sheep?). The itinerary ran for 14 nights including the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia. When you’re in your mid 20s and a seasoned backpacker, this was not an unappealing (or undoable) itinerary. Even with a couple of 12+ hour flights to survive.
After two brief, glorious days on Raro, we arrived in Auckland on a rainy autumn morning…and were promptly loaded onto buses towards the Waikato (where we each had a one night farm stay). Over the course of that week in New Zealand—we visited Rotorua, Christchurch, Milford Sound, Queenstown and Mount Cook Aoraki—I kept thinking “I could live here.” Australia, while nice, was a bit of an anti-climax. Though I made sure to focus on the highlights with Nanny.
Po atarau (Māori Farewell Song). Rendered our group a blubbering mess
A bit more than 20 years later I arrived at Auckland Airport at the crack of dawn—really Air NZ, WTF with all the 5am arrivals from Canada and the US?—along with three large suitcases, two carry-ons, and a newly validated resident visa. My wonderful sister-in-law Julia and nieces Sophie and Lucy insisted on meeting me at the airport, even though the university had pre-arranged a transfer to my hotel. After hugs I gave her my hotel address and we met there for a beverage and a chin wag. After doing some running around that morning (banking, tax registration, phone sim card, uni IDs), I met Michael and Brian and Grant for dinner. Until it was time for me to collapse on my bed with jet lag.
It’s not quite been five years since that morning: in a month’s time I’ll be attending citizenship swearing ceremony. Part of my negotiation with the university was my getting a residence visa up front: this took a couple months longer than the “work-to-residence” visa most academics get—but I’ve been down this road before and wanted to apply for one visa only, rather than having to repeat the process (and expense) a year or too later. Like clockwork, I ensured my initial visa restrictions (three months after arriving) and upgrade to permanent residence were applied for the first date I was eligible. As I did for my citizenship application.
Something so strong is…carrying me this way
Why? Not keenness to become a Kiwi citizen. Perhaps the most obvious difference between being a citizen or permanent resident is the ability to run for office. Residents in New Zealand can even vote. There’s not difference in terms of taxation when owning property between a resident or citizen either. For many, the benefits for going that extra, final step are unclear.
I love NZ and I’m happy here: I wouldn’t apply for citizenship if this wasn’t the case. But that’s not the main driver to my becoming a fully legal kiwi. It’s more a fundamentally queer mistrust of government.
One step ahead of myself?
The bald reality is that citizens are treated better than non-citizens…and in most proper liberal democracies citizenship cannot be easily taken away from a person. Current developments in the US sort of underscore this for me: times change and so do governments. Lock me in ASAP please. The expenses involved, which add up to about $1,000 to get from permanent resident to citizen (including the first passport), amortized over 20 or 30 years are still good value.
Migration is a privilege, not a right. New Zealand was under no obligation to allow me to settle here. Remembering that is important. I am grateful.