On 15 June 2017, a bill was introduced into Australian Parliament which, if passed, will make significant changes to the Australian Citizenship Act.
Below is a summary of some of key features of the bill:
4 year residency requirement
Under the new framework, applicants for citizenship by conferral will need to show that they have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for the 4 year period immediately before they apply for citizenship. Previously, it was possible to count time spent in Australia on a temporary visa or bridging visa towards the 4-year requirement. This would potentially require applicants to wait a further 3 years before applying for Australian citizenship.
Exemptions to residency criteria will continue to be available for applications:
- With permanent or enduring physical or mental incapacity; or
- Aged 60 or over or have hearing, speech or sight impairment; or
- Under 18 years of age; or
- Who were born to a former Australian citizen; or
- Who were born in Papua; or
- Who are stateless.
If an applicant has been outside during the four year residency period, it is still possible to apply for citizenship provided that the absence can be for no more than 365 days and the applicant held a permanent residence visa at all times while outside Australia.
The Department of Immigration citizenship eligibility page indicates that the residence requirements come into effect as of 20 April 2017. However, the legislation to bring the changes into effect has not yet been passed by Parliament. If the legislation is passed by Parliament, it is likely to be retrospective and affect applications lodged on or after 20 April 2017. Pending applications which don’t meet the 4-year permanent residence requirement are likely to be put on hold and processed once the legislation is passed.
English language requirement
Applicants for citizenship will need to sit an English test and demonstrate Competent English. Competent English means an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) (or an equivalent test) score of 6 in each component. Previously, English testing was not required.
Passport holders from the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada and New Zealand are usually exempt from English language testing in demonstrating competent English – we would expect this to also apply to the new citizenship rules.
A new citizenship test will be introduced which tests Australian values, including democratic beliefs, freedoms, equality and integration. The test will include multiple choice questions and after failing the test 3 times applicants will be barred from re-applying for 2 years. Currently, there is no limit to the number of times an applicant can sit the test.
There will be exemptions for people under 18, over 60 or with an incapacity.
The integration requirement
Applicants will be required to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community.
Below is an extract from the Department’s website:
This could require them to provide, for example, documentation to the effect that people who can work are working, or are actively looking for work or seeking to educate themselves; that people are contributing to the community by being actively involved in community or voluntary organisations; that people are properly paying their taxes and ensuring their children are being educated.
Applicants’ criminal records and adherence to social security laws will also be taken into account under this criteria.
Children born in Australia
Children born in Australia can automatically acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, where:
- They have maintained lawful residence in Australia throughout the 10 years
- They have held a valid visa permitting them to remain in Australia throughout the 10-year period
- The parent(s) were lawful non-citizens at all times between that parent’s last entry to Australia prior to the person’s birth and the person’s birth.
- The parent(s) are not entitled to any diplomatic and/or consular privileges or immunities.
A host of other changes are proposed under the new Bill, including a bar on applying for citizenship by people with criminal convictions, and stronger powers for the Minister to refuse or cancel citizenship where there are character concerns.
To view these amendments in detail, please see the following link:
We will continue to monitor changes and provide updates as more information becomes available.
If you have any concerns about the impacts of these citizenship changes, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or book an appointment to speak with our of our immigration specialists.