New Zealand had an estimated population of around 1400,000 Maori people, and 2,000 Whites, in 1839. Immigration began in the 1840s as companies and settlers sought to make the country a viable White colony. The discovery of gold in 1861 attracted a large number of immigrants, including some from China. In order to restrict their entry, a poll tax was introduced for them in 1881, which was not repealed until 1944. Between 1945 and 1966, 17 per cent of those who immigrated did so with direct help from the New Zealand government. Until the 1964 Immigration Act, people born in the British Isles and wholly of European descent were admitted freely. Immigration policies focused on the United Kingdom and Australia, so that during the 1960s, over 80 per cent of the population were of British or Irish descent. In 1964, all immigrants were required to have entry permits, which were awarded generally without discrimination.
In 1991, the criteria for immigration were changed. A points system giving preference to business and professional immigrants was introduced, as were yearly immigration targets. In 1995 and 2002, the government raised the English requirement for immigrants, and in 2003 immigration was targeted further at high‐skilled employees. Even though immigrants from the British Isles continued to constitute the largest single group of immigrants, they now made up less than one‐third of all immigrants. At the same time, the government tried to stop a significant exodus of skilled labour to Australia, which attracted 20,000 people in 2004 alone.