Australian citizenship is highly sought after by people from around the world. However, with the process being governed by a complex set of laws and regulations, including the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) (the Act), obtaining it is by no means quick or straightforward. In this article, we aim to answer some frequently asked questions about the process of applying for Australian citizenship, as well as considering some of the circumstances that could lead to it being revoked.
Why should an Australian Permanent Resident become an Australian citizen?
Holders of Australian Permanent Resident visas can remain in Australia indefinitely. However, there are several rights and protections that are only available to Australian citizens.
Australian citizens have access to consular assistance from the Australian Government while overseas. They are also protected from deportation from Australia, although it should be noted that the commission of serious crimes by an Australian citizen may be grounds for the revocation of their citizenship. We discuss this in more detail below.
Having Australian citizenship also opens wide-ranging opportunities to work in Australian Government jobs such as within the Australian Federal Police, Defence and the Army. Citizenship is also a prerequisite to becoming a Member of an Australian Parliament, as well as being able to vote in any elections.
What are the eligibility criteria for becoming an Australian citizen?
There are a number of ways to obtain Australian citizenship, the most straightforward of which is being born in Australia to a parent who is an Australian citizen or the holder of an Australian Permanent Resident visa. (It is important to note that a child born in Australia to people living here on a visa cannot obtain citizenship by birth.) Citizenship by descent can be granted to children born overseas to an Australian citizen, or to a child born overseas and adopted by an Australian citizen.
Alternatively, Australian citizenship may be granted by conferral, a process consisting of four broad steps:
- Meet the General Eligibility requirements, including the general residence requirement.
- Meet the good character requirements.
- Sit the Australian citizenship test.
- Take the Australian citizenship oath or affirmation at a citizenship ceremony.
An application for Australian citizenship will be refused if the applicant does not fulfil any of these requirements.
As part of Step 1 of the process, an applicant needs to hold an Australian Permanent Resident Visa, or be an eligible New Zealand Citizen1. The applicant also needs to meet the general residence requirement at the time of lodging their application with the Department of Home Affairs (the Department). Pursuant to section 22 of the Act, you meet the requirement if:
a) you were present2 in Australia for the period of 4 years immediately before the day on which you made the application for citizenship; and
b) you were not present in Australia as an unlawful non-citizen at any time during that 4 year period; and
c) you were present in Australia as a permanent resident for the 12 months immediately before the day on which you made the application.
You must also show that you are likely to reside, or to continue to reside in Australia or to maintain close and continuing links to Australia. Meeting this requirement can be tricky if you spend lengthy periods of time overseas, but the Department will consider a range of factors, including whether your family lives in Australia, the Australian immigration status of your family members, the amount of time you have previously spent in Australia, and your professional and financial ties in Australia, as well as the frequency and reasons for your absences from Australia.
A critical aspect of being granted Australian citizenship is meeting the good character requirement. “Good character” generally refers to the ‘enduring moral qualities of a person‘. If a person is found to be of good character, the Department considers that they are likely to uphold and obey the laws of Australia and other commitments they make through the Australian Citizenship Pledge.
You may need to provide an overseas penal clearance certificate from each country you have visited or lived in, as well as permit the Department to check your criminal history with the Australian Federal Police. A person who has been convicted of more serious offences might face difficulties in gaining citizenship, especially if they have been sentenced to imprisonment, a good behaviour bond or parole, or have ongoing criminal proceedings against them.
In addition to this, under the Citizenship Policy, other factors relevant to character include:
- dealing honestly and truthfully in your interactions with Government agencies and not providing false and misleading information; and
- any association you may have with other people, including family members, that may be of concern.
Australian citizenship test
The final stage of the process to obtaining Australian citizenship is sitting an Australian citizenship test, which assesses your knowledge of Australia and the English language. Some applicants are exempt from sitting the test, including those aged over 60 or under 18, or anyone with a relevant incapacity or impairment.
What are the grounds for revocation of a person’s Australian citizenship?
Being granted Australian citizenship is a significant milestone, but there are still certain grounds on which it can be revoked.
If the Immigration Minister is satisfied that it would be contrary to the public interest for a person to remain an Australian citizen, or if a person engages in conduct inconsistent with their allegiance to Australia, the Minister has the authority to revoke their citizenship under section 34 of the Act.
Citizenship may be revoked if at any time prior to the grant of citizenship the citizen committed a serious offence for which they were either sentenced to death or to imprisonment for 12 months or more.
Other grounds on which citizenship may be revoked include if a person is found guilty of:
- making a false and misleading statement in relation to their application for Australian citizenship, or previous applications for Australian visas at any time prior to the grant of citizenship; or
- obtaining Australian citizenship as a result of third-party fraud.
What are some of the common mistakes made when applying for Australian citizenship?
Failure to provide sufficient evidence with an application, or applying after living overseas for long periods during the past 4 years are two of the most frequently made mistakes when applying for Australian citizenship.
Providing information in a citizenship application that is inconsistent with information provided in a previous visa application, or omitting certain information from a citizenship application altogether is another common mistake, while inadequate preparation for the citizenship test often leads to people failing the test, and falling at the final hurdle.
How can we assist you in your application for Australian citizenship?
Craddock Murray Neumann can help ensure you put forward a complete and compliant Australian citizenship application by:
- reviewing your circumstances and providing you with detailed advice about your eligibility;
- discussing any complex matters arising out of your circumstances and providing a strategy on how to mitigate any issues identified; and
- drafting all required forms on your behalf, submitting the application, and assisting you with any issues that arise during processing, including preparing written legal submissions.
1 You are an eligible New Zealand citizen, or protected Special Category Visa (SCV) holder, if you:
- were in Australia on 26 February 2001 as the holder of an SCV;
- spent at least 12 months in Australia as the holder of an SCV in the two years immediately before 26 February 2001;
- commenced or recommenced residing in Australia within three months from 26 February 2001; or
- were residing in Australia on 26 February 2001 but were temporarily absent on that date.
2 A person can be deemed to have been present even if they have not been residing in Australia.
The information included in this article is a summary of the criteria for Australian citizenship as at December 2021. Australian immigration and citizenship laws are complex and change on a regular basis. Before commencing an application for citizenship, we strongly recommend that you contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our experienced immigration lawyers to confirm your eligibility.