Australian citizenship is often the final step in an individual’s migration pathway after gaining Australian Permanent Residency, with their ultimate goal being to live in Australia with all the rights and opportunities available to their Australian peers. Becoming a citizen carries many benefits, although some may consider the process daunting, difficult or unnecessary, or could even forget about applying altogether.

Evolve Legal would like to provide our current clients and the wider community with some information about Australian citizenship to assist them in their consideration of whether to proceed with their application for Australian Citizenship.

Why become a citizen?

Whilst permanent residency affords visa holders with substantial rights in terms of their ability to live and work in Australia, there are still limitations on an individual’s rights compared to that of an Australian citizen.

There are many benefits to becoming an Australian citizen, including:

  • the ability to vote in all elections in Australia;
  • being able to leave and re-enter Australia whenever you want, without needing a visa;
  • applying for an Australian passport;
  • registering the birth of your children as Australian citizens; and
  • stability and security in terms of your future in Australia. The Australian Government has broad powers to revoke permanent residency in certain circumstances, as opposed to the very limited powers to revoke citizenship.

Evidently, these benefits enable foreign-born individuals to live, work and participate in the Australian community, with all of the rights and responsibilities of their peers who possess Australian citizenship.

Am I eligible?

Permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen

In order to apply for Australian citizenship, you must either be a permanent resident, or an eligible New Zealand citizen. Determining whether you are an eligible New Zealand citizen can be confusing; however, put simply, you generally must have been here on 26 February 2001 or been here for 12 months in the 2 years before 26 February 2001.

Residency Requirement

If you are eligible based on the above, you must also be able to meet what is called the general residency requirement. This means that the Department of Home Affairs (‘DOHA’) i.e. the Australian Government’s immigration division will consider the amount of time you have spent living in Australia during the last four years in order to assess whether you can be a citizen yet.

First, you must have been an Australian permanent resident or an eligible New Zealand citizen for at least 12 months. For example, if you were granted your permanent residency visa on 1 January 2019, you will be able to meet this criterion from 1 January 2020. Importantly, the relevant date is the date you were granted permanent residency, not the date that your application was lodged.

Further, you must show that you have been living in Australia on a valid visa for the past 4 years.

Also, the DOHA will consider how much time you have spent outside Australia in recent years. You cannot apply for citizenship if you have been away from Australia for more than 12 months in total in the past 4 years. Particularly, you cannot have been outside of Australia for more than 90 days in total in the past 12 months. Some exemptions may apply here, and should be considered in more detail on a case by case basis.

Other criteria to be met

Once you have evidenced your eligibility based on the above, you must then prove that you meet the additional criteria for Australian citizenship. These include:

  • being able to prove you are of ‘good character’;
  • the requirement to have knowledge about Australia, which is assessed during your citizenship test;
  • showing a basic knowledge of the English language; and
  • the requirement to maintain a close and continuing association with Australia.

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to show your ability to meet the above criteria, as the DOHA may need particular evidence of your continuing ties to Australia in order to show that you should be granted Australian citizenship.

Concerns regarding eligibility

If you have concerns about meeting the above criteria, we recommend that you consider this very carefully before you apply. You should provide detailed information with supporting evidence with your application of how, despite certain matters, you are still able to satisfy the above criteria. For example, if you have any criminal convictions and/or you intend to move away from Australia in the near future, even if this is for a limited time, detailed explanations should be provided to the DOHA. There are various requirements under law regarding what and how this information should be considered and it is important that it is addressed correctly.

What is involved?

The first step in applying for citizenship is lodging an application with the DOHA. This application can be lengthy and intricate; however, it is important to ensure you provide sufficient and accurate information as failure to do so could be a risk to the success of your application.

After lodging your application, you will usually be invited to undertake an interview and sit the citizenship test. As noted above, the test assesses what you know about Australia and Australian citizenship and evaluates your English language skills. The DOHA provides some materials online to allow applicants to best prepare for the test, and it is important to be prepared to ensure you are well-equipped and have a greater likelihood of passing.

Once you have sat the test and had your interview, you will need to wait for a decision from the DOHA. This can take some time depending on current processing times and is the step where the DOHA assesses your ability to meet all the above criteria.

If the decision is positive, your application for Australian Citizenship will be approved. You will be informed of this approval by the DOHA and subsequently be required to attend a citizenship ceremony and make the Australian Citizenship Pledge to become an Australian citizen. This step is essential in the process. It is only after you have made the pledge that you are able to be granted your citizenship.

How can Evolve Legal help me?

Whilst the above process is quite lengthy and, at times, complicated, it is an important and rewarding process due to the extensive benefits of Australian citizenship.

If you are interested in finding out more about Australian citizenship, or you require assistance with assessing your eligibility and preparing an application, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team of immigration lawyers who can provide you with assistance on a fixed-fee basis.