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Poll tax on Chinese immigrants abolished

15 December 1944

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

The Finance Act (No. 3) 1944 abolished the poll tax introduced in 1881, which was described by Minister of Finance Walter Nash as a ‘blot on our legislation’.

A public meeting held in Dunedin in 1871 had called unanimously for a ban on further Chinese migrants joining those who had arrived since the mid-1860s. As work on the goldfields became harder to find, anti-Chinese prejudice increased. With the Chinese Immigrants Act 1881, New Zealand followed the example of Canada and the Australian colonies by imposing entry taxes on Chinese immigrants. A ‘poll tax’ of £10 a head (equivalent to $1750 today) was introduced, and ships arriving in New Zealand were restricted to one Chinese passenger per 10 tons of cargo. In 1896 this ratio was reduced to one passenger to 200 tons of cargo, and the poll tax was increased to £100 ($20,000).

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, organisations emerged to oppose Chinese immigration. These included 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 imposed during the 1920s rendered the poll tax largely irrelevant, and it was waived by the Minister of Customs in 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 However, the legislation was not repealed until 1944, long after other countries had abandoned such measures.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 suffering caused by the poll tax.

Other ways in which Chinese people were discriminated against included:

  • From 1898 until 1936 Chinese were denied the old-age pension.
  • From 1907 all arrivals were required to sit an English reading test.
  • From 1908 Chinese who wished to leave the country temporarily needed re-entry permits, which were thumb-printed.
  • From 1908 to 1952 naturalisation was denied to Chinese.
  • From 1920 all Chinese arrivals required an entry permit.
  • From 1926 permanent residency was denied to Chinese.

Looking back, moving on, marking the 75th anniversary of abolition of the Chinese poll tax in 1944. From George Andrews on Vimeo.

How to cite this page

Poll tax on Chinese immigrants abolished, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated