The dispute began when Meleseni Lomu, Tonga's acting secretary for finance, was going to travel to New Zealand for a four-day meeting of Pacific Forum economic ministers chaired by Finance Minister Michael Cullen. Lomu pulled out from the trip, though, after she was told by officials from New Zealand's Immigration Service that she would have to take a pregnancy test to get a visa. The Immigration Service has since denied making the request, but a second Tongan official--Siosi Cocker Mafi, the governor of Tonga's Reserve Bank--has reported being asked for a pregnancy test.
New Zealand is a country where citizenship is accorded by virtue of jus soli; that is to say, anyone born in New Zealand has an automatic right to New Zealand citizenship. This prospect allows for the possibility that prospective mothers of non-New Zealand citizenship will travel to the country and give birth there, with the hope of acquiring residency rights in New Zealand through their child. Ireland's recent vote in favour of changing its citizenship and birth laws to deny children born in Ireland to parents of non-Irish citizenship automatic Irish citizenship was produced by the fear that this might produce "birth tourism" migration to the country. New Zealand, too, is considering passing similar legislation.
The pregnancy tests offered to Tongans, then, is a response to what seems to be a general concern in New Zealand about large-scale immigration from the Pacific islands, particularly from those Pacific islands colonized either by Britain (Fiji and Tonga stand out in this regard) or by New Zealand itself (independent Samoa, the associated states of the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau). This fear isn't entirely unmotivated: Already, 200 thousand New Zealanders are of Pacific Islands background, with Samoans and Cook Islands Maori predominating, Tongans, Niueans, Fijians, and Tokelauans following at a distance. This communtiy is one of the most quickly growing in New Zealand, expected to double in size by 2031. Then again, Pacific Islanders form only 5% or so of New Zealand's total population.
Cathy A. Small and David L. Dixon's informative article "Tonga: Migration and the Homeland" from Migration Information provides an excellent survey of the history of emigration from Tonga.
In the 1930s, the Tongan population of about 32,000 was distributed across three island groups on 36 habitable islands; not quite half of the population resided on the main island of Tongatapu in 60 different villages. The capital city of Nuku'alofa was home to only about one in 10 Tongans. After World War II, this distribution began to shift. With an increasing pull of education and work opportunities on the main island, and a mushrooming population facing a shortage of agricultural land, young Tongans began to move.
The first moves were internal, from outer to main islands, and from smaller to larger towns. The next journeys were overseas, to the primary destinations of New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. At the time, migration from Tonga was a welcome solution to rampant population growth. With raw birth rates that often exceeded 35/1,000, the national population had swelled to 77,429 by 1966, more than double the 1930s level, and by 1976, the population, at more than 90,000, had almost tripled. Central planners in Tonga were necessarily worried about unbridled population growth in a country dependent on small-holder agriculture with a land mass of only 288 square miles, only two-thirds of it arable or planted.
Differentials in wages and educational opportunities--made more critical by the land shortage--fueled overseas migration. Tongan islanders ventured to New Zealand and Australia, the closest industrial nations and fellow members of the British Commonwealth, but also to the United States.
Since the 1960s, the outside world has remained an attractive destination for potential Tongan immigrants, as natural population increase combined with the lack of substantial structural changes in the Tongan economy to make traditional life more difficult still. The result?
Of Tonga's population of 97,784, almost seven of 10 Tongans now reside on the main island of Tongatapu, and practically one-quarter of the entire population lives in the capital, Nuku'alofa. Outer island areas are depopulating rapidly, leading to new government policies aimed at stemming the tide of internal population movement. Although recent population estimates suggest that migration overseas may be slowing, today half of the estimated 216,000 Tongans in the world are abroad, and almost every household has a relative resident in another country. About two in 10 of Tonga's expatriates are residents of Australia, while four out of every 10 overseas Tongans live in the US, and another four out of 10 live in New Zealand. The connections between migrants and their homeland have created a new global village of Tongans, with profound implications for their homeland.
This massive emigration has a major impact on Tongan life, on the one hand sharply reducing the size of the local workforce, on the other hand introducing vast inflows of cash through the remittances of immigrants to their families. The New Zealand Herald article "The great island money pipeline" shows some fo the ways in which the money is spent.
[One Tongan businessman] estimates Tonga gets about $120 million in remittances - 60 per cent in value from the United States where the highest number of migrant Tongans live, the rest divided about equally between New Zealand and Australia.
[. . .]
During the Weekend Herald's visit to Tonga, out in the villages we saw families who say the New Zealand money goes on basic needs such as flour, sugar, school fees and power bills.
We meet a Tongatapu teenager, Anna Lilyan, who wants to be a teacher. Her aunty in New Zealand sends the family about $400 a month for school tuition and church.
In another village Sisi Lasike gets about $200 a month from an Auckland relative which she uses to help pay for schooling, extra food such as meat for the children and material to make huge tapa cloths to sell at market.
Similarly a group of craftswomen at Tofoa weave mats which they sell locally or send back to New Zealand in return for help with school fees, power and telephone bills.
In the outer island group of Vava'u, a village trust maximises the New Zealand funds.
Siuta Laulaupea'alu, secretary to the Tefisi trust, says the thousands collected from Tongan relatives is merged for the common good.
Already the trust fund has paid for a $10,000 reconditioned flat deck truck which from last December has been rounding up and transporting about 60 village teenagers to five different high schools in the capital Neiafu every day - a 15-minute drive with two runs in the morning, two in the afternoon.
Tonga's remittance-driven economy allows those Tongans who stay in their homeland a higher standard of living than they would otherwise enjoy. The most notable problem with this economic model is that it's dependent on Tongans in the diaspora continuing to send remittances to their relatives on the Tongan islands. As the New Zealand Herald article I referred to above pointed out, that might be too much to expect as family ties are frayed by time and alienation. Tonga might never be able to escape this economic model since, after all, it is an isolated archipelago home to only a hundred thousand people and possessing an underdeveloped economy. Although Tonga scores fairly well inasmuch as human development is concerned, where economic development is concerned it might be trapped without extensive external support.
On top of Tonga's economic troubles, it's experiencing serious political troubles as the traditional monarchy has found itself confronted with calls for the establishment of a parliamentary democracy with freedom of the press. Jonathan Edelstein has written extensively on Tonga's current political troubles. Tonga's economic structure, depending as heavily as it does upon fairly intense and broad-ranging interactions with the outside world, might well be responsible for bringing political tensions in a society that still sees itself as a conservative Polynesian kingdom to a boil.
In the final analysis, Tongans--like the other peoples of the independent South Pacific island-states--are faced with the difficult question of how they can integrate their country with the wider world while retaining as much of their traditional culture as possible, all on very disadvantageous terms. It has always been difficult to build prosperous nation-states, but Tonga's task is more difficult than most.