Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Want a souvenir? Buy a woolly jumper

New Zealand passport specimens. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand passport specimens. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand is so hot right now.

The No 1 destination on British holidaymakers' wishlists last year, producer of cool music (Lorde) and movies (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and the place the world plans to escape to should Donald Trump decipher the nuclear codes.

It's nice being popular, admit it. It makes you a little proud to know the world considers our country so cool. And, yes, it feels nice every time a famous or ultra-wealthy foreigner chooses to live here.

James Cameron. Shania Twain. One of the Thompson Twins. And now Paypal founder Peter Thiel.

Sure, the guy has said some stupid things, like the time he wrote that the definition of rape had been expanded to include "seductions that are later regretted".
He has apologised for that now.

But still, he's rich and is mates with very important people like Trump. Having him around has to be good for New Zealand.

And so far it has been good. The American entrepreneur gave $1 million to the Christchurch rebuild and pumped a lot more cash into New Zealand start-up Xero.
But still, something's not right. On the face of it, Thiel doesn't deserve to call himself a New Zealander.

Yes, he's worth an estimated $3.7 billion and we need wealthy investors as much as we need builders and doctors, but there's something all of them have to do, no matter how busy they are, and that is to put in some time here.

Anyone who wants a black passport - bar a very few special cases - needs to live in New Zealand for most of five years.

From the looks of things Thiel hasn't done that.

Instead, he got his passport because of "exceptional circumstances".

Until officials explain what those circumstances are, we're all assuming it's Thiel's bank balance.

If it's the case that he paid his way into citizenship, it's not the first time it has happened in New Zealand and it's not that unusual in the rest of the world.

Some incredibly rich travellers like to add a second or even third passport to their collection to make it easier to fly to Paris for dinner, or simply as a status symbol.

It doesn't take much searching online to find advice on which countries' passports are the cheapest to buy and the quickest to get. Dominica is highly recommended at $140,000 in investment and with no need to live in the country.

The truth is, it's hard to mount a convincing argument against selling citizenships. There are warnings that - without due diligence - it may unwittingly allow criminals or other unsavoury types in. Some say it harms our reputation.

But that's all academic until it happens.

The real reason citizenship should not be for sale is it's a privilege to call yourself a Kiwi.
Thiel didn't need citizenship to buy a nice house in Wanaka to whenever he wants. Nor to invest and make money in New Zealand companies.

Our passports are not fashionable status symbols, they're the sign we belong to a group of people.

This group lives at the far end of the world and laughs at adverts about ghost chips. We end sentences with upward inflections and know which day to take a brolly to work. A lot of us like rugby, some like netball. We're proud of the Springbok Tour and making a stand on the nuclear ban.

We're going to be here long after New Zealand stops being a trendy holiday destination.
If people want a Kiwi souvenir they can buy a merino jumper.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something living between Auckland and Wellington. She has more than a decade's experience hosting and reporting on TV and radio. Heather's worked in Parliament's Press Gallery, covered the 2012 London Olympic Games, and reported from as far afield as Antarctica.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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