Proposed Changes to Citizenship Act … Again

changes to citizenship act again

With changes to Australian immigration and citizenship law and policy a frequent occurrence, it is not uncommon that the specifics of upcoming changes are not fully known until taking effect, leaving an inevitable sense of uncertainty in the public sphere during phases of legislative change.

At the time of writing this publication, Australia is in the mid cycle of change within a highly polarised political environment. The effects of the Turnbull Government’s regulatory overhaul of Australian citizenship legislation first announced in early 2017 remain outstanding, particularly those proposed changes announced for implementation in 2018 which are considered to be unprecedented.

Heightened Requirements for Conferral of Australian Citizenship

The Australian Government announced an intention to strengthen the integrity of Australian citizenship in April 2017 with legislation subsequently introduced into the parliament. While this legislation has currently stalled in parliament, it is clear the government proposes further amendments to facilitate the legislative bill passing through both houses of parliament.

The amended legislation the government is expected to table for its citizenship bill will heighten the existing requirements to obtain citizenship. For example, currently, persons applying for conferral of citizenship are required to under the general residence requirement to reside in Australia for at least four years and be a permanent resident for at least one year. Under the currently proposed changes, persons applying would have meet a heightened general residence requirement requiring permanent residency for at least four years to be eligible. Among other changes currently cited by the department, a new English test is under consideration.

What are the new requirements?

At date of this publication, the department’s website lists the following proposed amendments to
come into effect on 1 July 2018 albeit subject to the passage of legislation:

  • increasing the general residence requirement, which means applicants for Australian citizenship will need to have a minimum of four years permanent residence immediately prior to their application for citizenship with no more than one year spent outside Australia during that period;
  • completing a separate English language test, where applicants will need to demonstrate English language listening, speaking, reading and writing skills at the modest level before applying for citizenship by conferral;
  • strengthening the Australian values statement to include reference to allegiance to Australia and requiring applicants to undertake to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community;
  • strengthening the test for Australian citizenship through the addition of new test questions about Australian values and the privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship;
  • a requirement for applicants to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community;
  • strengthening the pledge to refer to allegiance to Australia, and extending the requirement to make the pledge to applicants aged 16 years and over for all streams of citizenship by application, including citizenship by descent, adoption and resumption.

Conclusion

As was the case with changes to the requirements for citizenship in July 2017, it remains to be seen what level of opposition these changes face within Parliament. What is clear however is the politicisation of the citizenship process. Until (and if) these changes take effect, applications will continue to be assessed under the current requirements. With these proposed changes however, permanent residents who are able to obtain citizenship currently, should not wait until July 2018.