Good news for prospective citizens

It has been reported by the Courier Mail and SBS that proposed changes to the eligibility requirements for Australian citizenship, which would have increased the difficulty of the citizenship test and have already resulted in longer processing times, are unlikely to be implemented.

Further reports in the Nine newspapers have clarified that whilst the policies may not have been dropped, they are unlikely to be introduced in this term of parliament as they have been given lower priority in the government’s legislative agenda.

Saying that, it is still worth revisiting what these proposed changes would entail.

Proposed changes

In April 2017, the Federal Government announced it intended to toughen the requirements for individuals applying to become Australian citizens.

The proposed changes included:

  • Requiring individuals to have held a permanent visa while residing in Australia for four years prior to applying for citizenship (as opposed to the current law, which regards an individual’s time spent in Australia on a temporary, permanent or bridging visa as counting towards the four year requirement).
  • Requiring applicants to demonstrate evidence of “competent” English language ability through an approved English language test – this would have essentially been university level English.
  • Altering the citizenship test to include a section on “Australian values”.
  • Prohibiting applicants who have failed the citizenship test three times from sitting the test again for another two years.

Over the past two years, the changes have attracted much controversy and been subject to modifications as a result of push-back from other political parties.

Current state of play

The Department of Home Affairs’ website (as at the date of publication of this article) states that 90% of applications for Australian citizenship by conferral are processed within 19 months.

Processing times have significantly increased from where they were a couple of years ago, where a typical application for Australian citizenship by conferral was processed in six months or less.

Earlier this year, the Auditor-General undertook a performance audit into the ‘Efficiency of the Processing of Applications for Citizenship by Conferral’.

The main findings of the report included that applications are not being processed in a time-efficient or resource-efficient manner. It further noted that processing times had increased significantly since March 2017.

This can, in part, be attributed to the influx of applications submitted following the announcement of the proposed changes, as applicants were hoping to avoid the proposed changes.

What we know so far

 The reports that the Federal Government no longer intends to pursue the proposed changes have been welcomed by community groups, such as the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), which criticised the changes for being “discriminatory” and “unfounded and unfair attacks on citizenship”.

 As the changes are unlikely to be implemented soon, we hope this will provide greater certainty to potential applicants for Australian citizenship and result in reduced processing times.

It is important to note that whilst the eligibility requirements for Australian citizenship are not likely to change in this term of government, Immigration Minister David Coleman has maintained the Government’s overall migration strategies and policies have not changed.

If you would like further information about the process of becoming an Australian citizen, or how the proposed changes, if implemented, would affect your eligibility for citizenship, please contact our Employment, Safety and Migration team.

This article was written by Kian Bone – Special Counsel and Greta Walters – Law Graduate in Employment, Safety and Migration.