Progressive singer-songwriter David Rovics banned by New Zealand Immigration

David Rovics playing at Dunedin union rally, August 2012
David Rovics playing at Dunedin union rally, August 2012

by Don Franks

David Rovics is an established leftist political singer-songwriter, based in Portland, Oregan.  He sings about workers’ struggles and anti-imperialist causes such as Irish and Palestinian freedom.

Rovics has spent over twenty years touring the world, including several visits to New Zealand. His latest album Into A PRISM is described by him as being a collection of “very topical songs about recent events such as the revelations about the NSA’s global ‘Prism’ spying program” (

He was due to perform in Wellington next Monday night, now this will not happen. In his own words: ”When I got paged over the intercom to the All Nippon Airways desk I was nervous, but figured it was something about a seat assignment on the flight from Narita to Auckland that I was about to board.  The woman from ANA handed me a cell phone and said that someone from New Zealand Immigration in Auckland wanted to talk to me.”

“Mr Rovics, why are you coming to New Zealand?”

“I’m playing six small gigs.”

“Do you have a work permit?”

“No,” I replied, “I was hoping I could get one when I arrived.  I was under the impression it was a formality that could easily be taken care of when I got there.”

Which is true.  Although I sure was wishing I had taken care of this formality a long time before.  Which is what I had done before my three previous tours of Aotearoa, aka New Zealand.  The problem is, unless you live near a city with a New Zealand consulate in it, which I don’t, you have to mail your passport in to their embassy in Washington, DC, and be without a passport for several weeks, which is a logistical challenge for someone who tours as much as me.”

The immigration official then questioned Rovics about immigration hold-ups he’d encountered in Norway and Canada, asked how much money he would be bringing to New Zealand, and said he could not enter the country without a work permit.

David then asked, “ Can I cancel all my gigs and come in on a tourist visa?”

The immigration official replied to that: “You can’t board that flight.  You’re not welcome in New Zealand.” Then with the comment “I’ve read your blog,” she terminated the conversation.

Clearly David Rovics is being barred for his politics, he has toured here a number of times before and was going about his entry into New Zealand in a similar manner as he has previously.

Last time in this country he played at the union-organised rally in Dunedin against the 90-day law.  David Rovics may be offside with the capitalist state’s immigration department, but he is welcomed in New Zealand by the organised working class.

Immigration controls are nothing more or less than an arm of capitalist control. Human freedom demands absolute rejection of these controls.

David Rovics’ Wellington gig at Puppies will still go ahead next Monday night; in his absence various local performers will be playing his songs.

$20 is an act of solidarity with an artist who has been banned from performing his art, from earning his living.

Here is a link to the tickets:

You can also donate to David directly:

His albums are pay what you want. So if you want to give him $50, buy an album for $50.

Don Franks is a Wellington musician who played with David Rovics at a 2010 gig in support of the Palestinian cause; in relation to Rovics’ music, see also, here.


  1. The New Zealand Immigration Service is the most corrupt department in a corrupt regime, and it has a track record of banning anyone whose politics are antithetic to the regime.

    Curiously, almost the same question was put to me in Iran where I was intercepted at the border.
    “Mr Fischer, why are you trying to enter Iran illegally? What were you thinking?” But the Iranian border police were polite, hospitable and ready to listen to my explanations. Over there I found that you could argue the point with officialdom on moral grounds. Over here New Zealand government officials are bloody minded and politically prejudiced and have no interest in basic moral principles.

    Perhaps David Rovics to leave his next visit until after the ugly monstrosity of the realm of New Zealand has been wiped off the face of the earth.

      • “The likes of Helen Clark” could be interpreted in many ways. New Zealand’s immigration and citizenship rules are inherently corrupt. Anyone with money, however ill-gotten, can buy residency and citizenship while those who have taken a public stand on matters of principle can expect great difficulty in obtaining New Zealand residency. That reflects badly on politicians of all parties, and it is no credit to the people of New Zealand. I have argued that an explanation of the endemic corruption of the New Zealand state can be found in the particular characteristics of the New Zealand monarchy, to which all parliamentarians must pledge allegiance. Others have different explanations. Regardless of the “why and how” of state corruption, we all have a moral obligation to see it off the premises.

  2. Back in the 1980s I travelled all the way through Yugoslavia without a visa, thanks to an inept travel agent. As I was leaving, Yugoslav border officials came on board the bus I was on and went through everyone’s passport and asked how it was I had travelled all the way through Yugoslavia without a passport. I said the bus company I had booked the ticket on told me I didn’t need one and they just toook me to the border post and stamped my passport and that was that. Very relaxed.

    By contrast, having arrived by plane in Spain about a year earlier, I was promptly deported under armed guard – another travel agent had told me I didn’t need a visa for there!

    Those were back in the days before the internet; thankfully I can now search for myself to see if visas are needed for this or that country.

    But the difference between Spain and Yugoslavia was incredible.

    I think it’s especially interesting that NZ Immigration had been reading David Rovics’ blog. And I assume they are aware of what gigs he played here on earlier visits, including the Palestinian one where Don played with Rovics.


  3. Very clear political motivations. Activists and lefties are forced to learn all these ludicrous rules too often – use it to beat them with their own stupid books.

    For the record, tonight (Wednesday) was meant to be the first show in chch followed by one in Dunedin

  4. David is now being helped out by the musicians’ union who are hopefully getting a work visa to him. This hopefully mean he is allowed into NZ but it will be too late for the Christchurch show and probably Dunedin as well.

  5. Great publication! Thanks for publicizing this situation and thanks for your support. Hope to see some of you soon in New Zealand if I can get this thing resolved before all the gigs are over…

  6. Cheers David

    I just knocked up a song about this episode, called “International terrorist of sorts”, hope to record it this weekend and will play it at Puppies on Monday night.

  7. David shines light into dark places. It makes some people nervous. But it’s a good thing that he does. Challenging the consensus view and forcing people to see both sides of an argument is a healthy thing. The immigration official needs to be pulled into line.

  8. The issue of immigration’s reasons for denying David entry aside, it was pretty grim to read some of the redneck backlash against his musings over the whole event on his blog. I don’t know how any of these people heard about the event; I doubt they’re fans. Ignorance, conservativism, ugly nationalism, racism. Nothing new, just a reminder of the state of the dominant political discourse here at the moment.

  9. I think the reason people vent in that way is because they aren’t the dominant discourse here any more. So they are restricted to venting on blogs and radio talkback. The less actual power they have the more shrill their venting is.

    The NZ ruling class these days, on the other hand, are products of the sixties and tend to be socially liberal; their social liberalism goes hand-in-hand with their economic liberalism, whereas the old conservative prejudices went hand-in-hand with the welfare state.

    Those combinations, which initially seemed very odd to those of us who were around on the left during the transition, and which took us some time to get our heads around, actually make sense.

    The smiling liberals, like Shearer and Key, are much more dangerous. And, of course, they’re the people who make the immigration laws and oversee their implementation.


  10. things are getting even more interesting… here’s the relevant bit from an email an immigration lawyer in christchurch sent to me. it’s recounting a conversation he had with the private secretary of a top inz minister:

    “When I described your situation he aggressively advised me of the
    rules and said that you couldn’t expect to put them to one side at
    your choice. When I sensed I was getting nowhere I advised him there
    could be some political implications for the government and to my
    surprise he stated he was aware of you as he had read an article you
    had written on a Marxist blog where you detailed your situation with
    INZ. When I advised him that I had not mentioned who I was talking
    about he advised me that he knew it was you. Big Brother is watching
    you!!!! So the Minister had obviously been alerted to your

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