Poll tax imposed on Chinese

5 July 1881

Poll tax certificate (Archives New Zealand, LS 24/1 1615)

Parliament passed the Chinese Immigrants Act. After this received the Royal Assent, a ‘poll tax’ of £10 (equivalent to nearly $1700 today) was imposed on Chinese migrants and the number allowed to land from each ship arriving in New Zealand was restricted. Only one Chinese passenger was allowed for every 10 tons of cargo. In 1896 this was changed to one passenger for every 200 tons, and the tax was increased to £100 (nearly $19,000).

As employment on the goldfields dwindled, anti-Chinese prejudice had intensified, with calls for Chinese immigration to be restricted. In 1881 New Zealand followed Canada and the Australian colonies in imposing entry taxes on Chinese immigrants.

Numerous organisations opposed to Chinese immigration emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Chinese League, the Anti-Asiatic League and the White New Zealand League.

Further restrictions on Chinese migration and residency in the 1920s rendered the poll tax largely inoperative, and it was waived by the minister of customs from 1934. However, the legislation was not repealed until 1944, long after other countries had abandoned such measures. In 2002 the New Zealand government officially apologised to the Chinese community for the injustice of the tax.