After 47 years of living in New Zealand, a Whangarei man only recently learned he is not a citizen when his employer terminated his contract due to his "immigration status".

Graeme Watson - who went to school here, got married, obtained driving and gun licences, became a registered counsellor and worked in Government-provided health services - said he might joke about being a "nobody", a stateless person in his own country, but "it's a bloody nightmare".

He arrived on a Scottish parent's passport in the late 1960s and, as he had never left New Zealand, never applied for a passport.

Two months ago Mr Watson lost his job because of his "immigration status" , after being employed with a private mental health provider for only five weeks. He was paid for only two of those weeks; the nationwide company telling him his outstanding wages were frozen because he may have worked "illegally", he said. Before then he had worked for more than four years with Northland District Health Board.

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He was able to get Work and Income support after losing his new job nearly two months ago but is experiencing hardship and is trying to access his Kiwisaver funds. To do that, Inland Revenue requires proof of his work status.

Mr Watson's unexpected Catch 22 struggle to gain citizenship recognition saw him last week receive a brand new, but blank, British passport, with no entry visa to New Zealand included.

"It's a bloody nightmare. This has come about because of a Government cock-up. All I want to do is work. I enjoy my work, I'm good at it," Mr Watson said. "But the current Immigration Act clearly states I can be deported as I don't have citizenship or a visa."

The act gives pre-April 1972 British immigrants automatic entitlement to work and become citizens. Mr Watson said he has been wrongly put in the "post-April 1972 basket and nobody is taking responsibility for sorting this out".

Whangarei MP Shane Reti advised him to go to Immigration Services in Auckland with documentation proving how long he has lived in the country.

"At the least, I might get a sticker in the back of my new blank British passport saying I can work in New Zealand, but I simply can't afford to make that trip," Mr Watson said. Mr Reti told the Northern Advocate he could not comment on a matter raised with him by a constituent, for privacy reasons.

Immigration New Zealand area manager Michael Carley confirmed that United Kingdom citizens who took up permanent residence in New Zealand before April 2, 1974, are deemed to be residents.

"There have been no recent changes that would have affected any individual's employment or citizenship status," Mr Carley said. "However, employers can now access Immigration New Zealand's (INZ) online tool VisaView to check whether a person is lawfully able to work for them.

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"As [Mr Watson] does not have a New Zealand passport, INZ would advise him to apply for a permanent residence visa so that his details and updated immigration status are recorded in our systems."

Documents proving continued residence since April 1974 include rates bills, driver's licence, power bills, tax returns, school records and employment references.

Mr Watson said if this has happened to him, many others must also be stateless. Amnesty International told him the status of people whose families migrated before children were required to have their own passports had always been "a grey area".