Bill English defends granting Peter Thiel citizenship

Bill English has defended the decision to grant controversial US billionaire Peter Thiel New Zealand citizenship.

Mr Thiel, who made his fortune as co-founder of PayPal and as an early investor in Facebook, became an official Kiwi in 2011 after spending a total of only 12 days in the country, on four separate visits.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday, Mr English said Mr Thiel had already been a New Zealand resident for five years when he was granted citizenship.

"This impression that someone showed up at the airport and became a citizen is wrong," he told host Duncan Garner. "The decision itself is made by officials who deal with something like 1000 of these cases every year."

Nathan Guy, the minister who approved Mr Thiel's application, said people were only angry about it because of Mr Thiel's "connections to the Trump regime".

"This is an individual who is incredibly well connected in Silicon Valley, he's a great ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand," Mr Guy told reporters last week.

While Mr English was unable to name anything Mr Thiel had done to promote New Zealand as an "ambassador", he agreed with Mr Guy's assessment on the economic benefits Mr Thiel would bring.

"This guy happened to bring a whole set of connections as well, which has been beneficial to New Zealand... In the tech sector here he's regarded as someone who provides very useful connections into a US market which is part of the success and growth of our tech sector."

While attracting investment isn't so difficult now, Mr English says it was at the time Mr Thiel came along.

"New Zealand was in a recession, just coming out of a recession, dealing with the earthquakes. Attracting investors and capital looked pretty difficult."

Mr Thiel has invested around NZ$50 million in accountancy software company Xero and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.