Australian Citizenship Changes – what you need to know
On the 20th April 2017, the Australian government announced more sweeping changes to the immigration program. On this occasion, their focus was on applications for Australian Citizenship.
Prime Minister Turnbull said that the new changes will put Australian values at the very heart of Australian citizenship. He says it will enable Australia to be an even stronger and more successful multi-cultural country. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, emphasized that the government was not asking applicants to abandon their culture or citizenship "but when you come to our country you decide to abide by Australian laws... and adopt Australian values".
1. Residence Requirements
Applicants must be permanent residents for four years before applying for citizenship. In addition to this, applicants cannot spend more than a total of 12 months outside Australia during this time. Before this, the requirement was only 1 year of permanent residency but 4 years of living in Australia. It is no longer possible to count time spent in Australia on a temporary or bridging visa towards the four-year requirement for permanent residency.
2. English Requirements
Applicants will now need to sit an English test to demonstrate that they have at least competent English before they sit the citizenship test. Competent English would require a score of 6 in each band of IELTS, or one of the alternative tests of English. Previously, applicants only needed to demonstrate that they had basic English which was tested when the applicant went to sit the citizenship test.
3. Integration Requirement
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is also requesting that applicants demonstrate their integration into the Australian community.
This is likely to include providing evidence that you are
Working or looking for work or studying
Paying all your taxes
Actively involved in community or voluntary organisations
Ensuring your children are attending school.
In addition to this the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will undertake extra security and character checks. If there is evidence of any of the following, your citizenship application may be refused:
Breaching social security laws
Involvement in gangs or organised crime
4. Citizenship test
A new citizenship test will be introduced which tests Australian values more thoroughly. Applicants will be able to attempt the test a maximum of 3 times before being suspended for 2 years. Previously, there was no restriction on the number of times that a person could attempt the test. If a person is found to be cheating on the citizenship test this will result in an automatic fail.
5. Shared Values Statement
It is also proposed that the Australian values statement be strengthened to include references to allegiance to Australia and require applicants to make an undertaking to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community.
6. Pledge of Commitment
All applicants aged 16 years and over are required to pledge their allegiance to Australia before being granted Australian citizenship.
The Australian government has advised that these reforms will not be introduced immediately but will be introduced by the end of 2017.