Dr Liz Gordon: Eugenics in New Zealand immigration policy

Micaela Galvao

Prior to world war two, eugenics was a highly popular theory in New Zealand and around the world. The philosophy of racial fitness viewed a hierarchy of humans on the basis of race and ability. 

The black American Jesse Owens’ successes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (four gold medals), carried out at the heart of Nazism, thumbed its nose at the theories of white superiority, but the reality is that race-based theories were very widespread at the time, including in our own country.

The Plunket society was born of the concerns of Frederick Truby-King that white mothers were too interested in education, which would lead to fewer babies being born.  Less education, more babies, please!

But eugenics was not just about race.  It was about disability, sexual orientation, political beliefs and other factors too. The British establishment tended to view itself as the pinnacle of human civilisation (despite a track record or moral and intellectual failures and more than a tinge of inbreeding) and was therefore susceptible to eugenic beliefs.

And, have you noticed, a new eugenics has crept into New Zealand in regard to physical and intellectual disability.  There have been a few cases lately.  The latest, and perhaps most shocking, has been Micaela Galvao, a ten year old girl who has been denied a visa because she is on the autistic spectrum.

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Her parents can stay, but she must go back to Brazil. The grounds are simple. Micaela “is likely to impose significant costs or demands on New Zealand’s health services or special education services”.

This is by no means the first time that a child has been refused immigration clearance because of disabilities.  You can’t get residency here if you have Downs Syndrome, for example. Not welcome here.

The Equal Justice Project found that the health grounds in fact act as a blanket ban on people with disabilities entering Aotearoa. It is likely they are lawful, but the question I want to ask is: do we want to be that country?

And I think we don’t.  New Zealand is a wealthy country.  We have relatively good services for people with disabilities.  We have a relatively effective health system. It seems to be that we can, and should, welcome the opportunity to take in children like Micaela, and help them have a better life.

We wouldn’t turn someone down for residency for being an elite athlete, but it is well known that the lifetime health costs of athletes is much higher than others, not to mention associated ACC and income support costs. 

I personally don’t see much difference between refusing someone on miserly grounds and refusing them on moral grounds.  The effect is the same. Should we call INZ’s position ’economic eugenics’, then? I think so.  The policy needs to be reviewed and overturned. It is embarrassing. It is not kind.  It is not us.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. They’re not listening @Liz. It’s almost as though some of them are intentionally trying to embarrass the government – although more fool the gummint. They have complete “faith” in their officials – even the ones that devised all that demographic profiling.
    Ditto many in other government agencies

  2. Eugenics: The study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable.

    Being refused a residency visa isn’t eugenics.

    • +1 Andrew, but remember NZ is full of white supremacists on every corner too. (Although in Christchurch might be likely). We can’t worry about real crimes and torture for our own kids as we need to be distracted by the latest woke hyperbole.

      • If the woke get their way the NZ cultural revolution will happen and the workers who get their pronouns wrong and don’t want their kids to have hormone blockers at 14 will be arrested, interrogated and possibly serve jail time. Just don’t call a horse gay, be religious, provide any satire or humour that might be misinterpreted as a hate crime. This happened in the UK and created a divided Britain with Brexit, now the brits who have left their wonderful Britain with the toxic blend of woke meets Thatcher policies, to advocate the same woke, policies here which will achieve the same result, aka destroy a previously world class health care, justice and welfare system with Kafka stupidity.

  3. “The black American Jesse Owens’ successes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (four gold medals), carried out at the heart of Nazism, thumbed its nose at the theories of white superiority”

    That’s a misrepresentation of how Owen’s success was perceived at the times, In the 1930’s not even “white supremacists” had a problem with acknowledging folk from Africa were good athletes in some areas of track and field. In fact Hitler states in Mien Kampf about the physical strengths of “negro’s”.

    Ironically Owens had an easier time of it while he was visiting Germany, where he was treated with courtesy and respect than he did when living his life in the US of A where he was treated an a total inferior

  4. As Jessie Owens pointed out when the American medal winners returned to the USA they were entertained with dinner at the White House.
    Except for him. At that time the only black people allowed in the White House were the domestic staff.

  5. “Her parents can stay, but she must go back to Brazil.”
    What..!? You can’t be serious @ Dr LG? That’s barbaric! To even suggest such a thing is barbaric bordering on sadistic.
    Pharmac, ACC and WINZ are corrupt organisations run by narcissistic psychopaths for their powerful political cronies and I’m amazed those ‘organisations’ haven’t yet sparked riots in the streets.
    “…Micaela Galvao, a ten year old girl who has been denied a visa because she is on the autistic spectrum….”
    Just as well our useless, cowardly, expensive politicians can’t be expelled for being on the arsehole spectrum.
    As for money to fix broken people? We have tons of the stuff. If our farmers can feed 40 million people but only see the revenue equal to 10 thousand people then there’s billions disappearing daily into God only knows who’s pocketsessss. AO/NZ’s desperately corrupt, we know that, and if our health systems and politic can split up a kids family then AO/NZ’s also deeply fucking evil.

    • “That’s barbaric! To even suggest such a thing is barbaric bordering on sadistic.”
      Unfortunately true @CB. Even among some that profess to be ‘of the “Left”‘.
      Sad ain’t it! But they’re exceptional – so I guess we should make allowances. Apparently solidarity ain’t part of the ‘Left’ these days. Egos and humility have been commodified just like just about everything else. All hands on deck – every WASP for themselves!

  6. “New Zealand is a wealthy country” ? Have you seen how old the cars are in NZ compared to every other OECD country? NZ is not wealthy, certain home owners think they are but in reality most are not. NZ is the closest thing the OECD has to a failed state, the futures not bright for this mismanaged island in the middle of nowhere.

    • Herein lies the problem.
      – Try getting mental health assistance. Good luck because it is very unlikely to be available.
      – Talk to IHC about funding shortages.
      – Why are charities who provide emergency food and shelter unable to cope with the demands.

      Lets not kid ourselves that this government can fix the problem or that a change of government will either. We need a change of attitude, not one which sees endless short term handouts as a solution but a long term strategy which facilitates improved productivity, increased personal responsibility and a huge lift in our education standards.

  7. NZ government needs to stop helping other peoples kids to the detriment of our own disabled and neglected children. The migrant kids coming to NZ seem to be a lot better off with working parents who are wealthy enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars migrating around the world to take up other countries resources while the NZ state repeatedly fails to look after our own kids.

    Micro aggressions, casual racism (aka a coffee receipt at an Asian owned cafe listing the table as Asian makes international news in NZ) is more important to the woke and this government than actually caring about our poor kids at home who are being tortured and abused and neglected by government.

    Sadly kids in NZ suffer historical and current abuse that is ignored by government.

    20 million on a legal defense at the UN for failing to investigate NZ child torture victims.

    ”I am still haunted by the trauma of Lake Alice and particular the memories of being raped, and seeing a mentally disabled boy being injected into his penis, the smell of urine and faeces swelling up in our pants and dripping down our legs while waiting in fear for ECT, and begging for help while being sexually abused, and being called a liar and being punished for it.
    ”These are the worst memories and they flash up daily.’’

    Teenagers being found dead and tortured in bins in Auckland. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/auckland-teen-torture-case-girls-body-found-inside-a-rusty-drum-at-abandoned-state-house/DXT3NDUVEID3LZVMEY3AUVXURQ/

    Children terrified of Oranga Tamariki, because even small children realise that the state of NZ is not going to protect or provide reasonable assistance to them (poor kid wants to stay in the hospital forever). https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/staff-at-waikato-dhb-extremely-distressed-by-oranga-tamarikis-treatment-of-child/2XE7ELXTYTR37RSHESC2MFIVFQ/

    Tired of the woke (and of course those beating the immigration drum the loudest are migrants themselves) so its very self serving when there are very serious issues in NZ for NZ victims especially our children, that are never addressed as woke beat their drums for more resources draining and distracting the state for woke led causes, to distract and avoid government help to NZ victims who receive nothing, not even an investigation in many cases!

  8. Maybe that’s because the whole slimey carcass of eugenics slides particularly easily down the throat of neoliberalism.

    I can readily see Seymour espousing this shit on behalf of the NZ taxpayer…

  9. Current Immigration policy is a disorganised shambles and appears to think everyone is an individual and are so keen to come to or stay in NZ that they will jettison any family members as collateral damage. The same is happening with the farce around Work to Residence Visas where processing is so slow families have to leave for the sake of children stuck in limbo. Immigration needs to reduce the processing backlog and solve CURRENT skill shortages (not pie in the sky future aspiration skills) so lets automatically convert all the Work to Residence visas to Residence Visas now. Then consider doing the same for Skilled Work Visas accumulated over 5 years.
    And to Dr Liz’s point, stop assuming that any deviation from perfect health in one family member is a net cost to our country

    • NZ visas are processed by India and China, as apparently our government and immigration department feel they are too incompetent and lazy to do it here ourselves. Or maybe price is the most desirable attribute to immigration processing and let the massive problems when so many criminals seem to be coming to NZ and normal applications are not processed, just be someone else’s problem. What an advertisement for NZ when China and India do NZ visas. Welcome to neoliberal NZ!

      • Not sure they’re still doing that @Save NZ but if ever you were to pass the INZ presence in Delhi when it was operating, you’d have found a Kiwi standing outside the perimeter smoking a fag. He’d be there as you travelled in one direction, and still there an hour and a half later when you went past in the opposite direction. I think I might even have photos somewhere

    • I disagree – whilst there is a significant skills shortage we have to break the cycle of just importing people as this doesn’t serve NZ well in the long run. We have to invest in skills and knowledge amongst the NZ born population and then keep them here.

  10. Wow, the DB community is on form today. What an interesting array of responses! There is so little proper debate on matters like this in Aotearoa.

  11. An elite athlete may have higher health and associated costs, but they also contribute financially. A ten year old can not yet demonstrate the same. At this point in her life she is a dependent with an assumed cost to the system. Would her situation be different if she was an independent adult despite her autism?

  12. NZ needs to clear a back log for housing, health care, superannuation for our own citizens first. Too many people from overseas who can have accidents at any time and should not be living in NZ, increasingly many are high needs and taking priority and resources away from others.

    Exclusive: 30,000 overdue for hospital treatment; Covid-19 recovery work off-track in some services

    Government ministers taken to Employment Court by Auckland mother of disabled man

    Even if you are a visitor you can get sick and need extreme levels of care and not being familiar with NZ makes it more likely. That takes our dwindling hospital resources away from others.

    ACC approved for the “Not-Botulism” Kochumman Family

    Family ‘shocked’ after grandparents hospitalised for smoke inhalation

    When people migrate there should be more care taken to long term situations aka leaving family and friends behind as the new neoliberal way seems to be bring everybody with you to countries that don’t have enough health and welfare sustainability to cope with for their own citizens, but have another million added and told to lump it when standards drop!

    That is why I am in favour of the 2 year working holiday when people don’t bring relatives with them, they go home afterwards, with knowledge of another’s culture and a good experience for the most part. Migration and overstaying for money has changed this and not for the better.

  13. Fact – Andrew is correct. This is not an eugenics issue, eugenics has always been about selective breeding. Oxford Concise Dictionary: “ the science of improving the ( esp human) population by controlled breeding for desirable inherited characteristics.” It’s about the money.

    Fact – There are insufficient health dollars being made available for New Zealand’s depressed young persons, or for hip grinding older people, or some life-saving medicines, or pay for nurses. Opening doors to persons with special educational and medical support service needs, is well beyond the brief of New Zealand Immigration – it’s Government; Government only acts in its own interests.

    • While your view is logical if as Liz says that athlete’s health costs are higher also then there does appear to be discrimination against certain problems. Selfishness is a popular vice so it is unlikely that we will ever see fair treatment for all in this world although the birth of Christianity almost 2000 years ago started with promise but the popular sins took over the church instead of the church changing the world for the better.

  14. Liz, as a legal profession you well know this isn’t eugenics, it’s just a decision by a fragmented, overworked government body. NZ has come to be seen as a soft touch due to our rampant out of control immigration policies, but we as a country are under no obligation to take migrants of any stripe if we don’t want to. Already the NZ state totally fails NZ children with special needs of all forms in the education system. Why should we add to the burden if we don’t have to?
    Out of interest, why did the parents come here and leave their daughter behind?

  15. Interesting.

    The 3 PM’s Immigration and Economic advisors, Hayden Glass, Julie Fry and Peter Wilson have a fetish for this kind of Social Engineering. Hence Chris Faa Foi doesn’t have much to say about the current situation nor does the PM.

    Glass & Fry have written a few books about this ‘kind’ of policy and the re-engineering of NZ Society.
    If you’re in Auckland they have a bookshop on Ponsonby Rd called the Openbookshop.

    This ‘kind’ of thinking by them describes how NZ could become a utopia for IT startups and Wealthy Investors. That’s it.

    They’ve captured the PM and her cabinets voices and I guess their thinking.

    Look em up!

  16. Lucky they left because this autistic person in NZ can’t even get their teeth looked at.

    “A disabled Canterbury man suffering painful toothache has been told he will have to wait four months before he can even have a consultation.

    Matthew, who has high and complex needs including autism and intellectual disability, is having to take Panadol every four hours, refusing hot drinks and having sleepless nights while he waits for an appointment at Christchurch Hospital to have general anaesthetic to remove one cracked and broken tooth.

    And while he faces a four-month wait for a consultation, his mother Helen is concerned about it impacting his already challenging behaviour as a result of his pain which led to him ransacking his room last week.

    A disability advocate has also written to the director general of health asking to intervene due to concerns around not only his own health and safety but his family’s who he lives with.”


  17. The Equal Justice Project found that the health grounds in fact act as a blanket ban on people with disabilities entering Aotearoa. It is likely they are lawful, but the question I want to ask is: do we want to be that country?

    well, it is lawful, and it legal and it is New Zealand. All the way!

  18. Don’t women practice eugenics when they chose someone ugly but greedy rich or someone handsome but incredibly dumb to procreate with? Or is that natural selection love?

    • They did not. The child is here – has been here for several years – but will have to leave. I use eugenics as a term for a theory of hierarchy of humans based on characteristics, derive from early forms of evolutionary theory, and often called in this context social Darwinism.
      Thanks again for interesting debate.

      • You can’t just make up your own definitions though Liz. It’s obvious why you used that term, and used it dishonestly IMHO. The body of your text should be sufficient to make your point without resorting to inflammatory hyperbole.

          • That may be so, Wild Katipo, but it’s not “Eugenics”. Not only is there no need to murder the language, regardless of the rectitude of your position, it’s unhelpful and ultimately counterproductive to allow words to lose their meaning.

            Michael Robilliard: “Hilary Putnam, in his essay “The Meaning of Meaning,” advanced his theory of meaning known as semantic externalism, famously concluding that “meaning ain’t in the head.”

            To this day, the vast majority of contemporary philosophers accept this account of how meaning and language fundamentally operates. Put another way, meaning and language is fundamentally public. What’s more, language and meaning (and indeed the collective knowledge passed between generations via language) is not merely public with respect to just present persons but is also constituted by the deep, rich, and networked storehouse of meanings passed on from one generation of language-users to the next. As Gottlob Frege noted in his essay “Sense and Reference,” “For it cannot well be denied that mankind possesses a common treasure of thoughts which is transmitted from generation to generation.”

  19. I stopped reading half way through because of time restraints, however, what I did read, was appalling. Where the parents go , so also should the children, no matter WHAT circumstances. New Zealand, should be hanging its head in shame over this shabby treatment. It is fundamental to our humanity that we NEVER separate family’s. Ever.

    • Totally agree, they are a package deal. Clearly we are not going to give the seal of approval to any and all potential immigrants, but granting the parents but not the child is an appalling act.


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