30 Jun 2017

New Zealand residents decry Thiel citizenship fast-track

9:23 pm on 30 June 2017

An American woman working in Wellington and going through the years-long process of seeking citizenship says it is not fair Peter Thiel was able to gain his so quickly.

American billionaire Peter Thiel.

American billionaire and New Zealand citizen Peter Thiel. Photo: AFP

Graphic designer Emily Halina Stevens, from Washington DC, said she had been in New Zealand for four years on student, work and partnership visas, and was currently one year through a residency visa.

Internal Affairs was yesterday forced to reveal Mr Thiel had spent just 12 days in the country before being granted citizenship in 2011.

Ms Halina Stevens said it wasn't right Mr Thiel had been able to fast-track his citizenship.

"I have my personal qualms, I think jealousy comes into it, and I just found it upsetting."

Once she was eligible for permanent residency, she would need to spend another five years on that visa before being eligible for citizenship.

One of her American friends was having trouble getting residency and found it even more upsetting, she said.

"It just hits hard when you're struggling and somebody can essentially buy what you so badly wish you had."

She did not discredit Mr Thiel's investment in New Zealand.

Graphic designer Emily Halina Stevens, from Washington DC.

Graphic designer Emily Halina Stevens, from Washington DC. Photo: Supplied

"But I don't think that just because you've given us money you should essentially be able to become one of us ... I say us, I mean New Zealanders."

She said she did not think anyone would consider Mr Thiel as a New Zealander and it was important for would-be citizens to spend time in New Zealand, learn to understand its culture and show dedication to the country.

Immigration NZ had been reasonable to deal with and it had not taken long to get each of her visas approved, she said.

Ms Halina Stevens said she regarded New Zealand as her "spiritual home".

"I just like the lifestyle, my friends are all here - I just feel like I belong," she said.

"I won't be completely happy with my immigration status until I'm not an immigrant anymore."

Another woman, Roslyn, arrived in New Zealand 1979 from the United Kingdom and lived in Christchurch. After a holiday following the earthquake in Christchurch she returned and decided to apply for citizenship.

After 32 years living in New Zealand however, her holiday in 2012 meant she did not have enough consistent days in New Zealand to qualify.

"I didn't have the 240 days of being in New Zealand for that time [the year], so that's why I can't qualify now," she said.

The clock started again and she'll be able to apply again next year, almost four decades after she first arrived.

An Australian man, Greg, applied for citizenship in 2003, also having lived in the country for 30 years.

"I had a house, a mortgage, dogs, a wife, a daughter," he said.

He worked for a New Zealand humanitarian organisation that posted him to Fiji however, and although he paid tax in New Zealand his time in Fiji meant he was unable to apply.

He said he was "reasonably annoyed to put it mildly" when he heard of Mr Thiel's citizenship.

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