Becoming an Australian Citizen
So you're thinking of moving to Australia and already want to be an Aussie? Want the true blue Aussie passport? Well it's a bit of a journey unless you are one of the lucky ones who were born with the right parents or in the right place. Here's how you can go about getting citizenship.
Do it right
Australia is a popular destination for migrants, and accepts tens of thousands of applications each year; they also reject a significant number.
When dealing with Australian officials always be respectful and courteous – annoying an official will not help your case! Remember it's their country, and their rules, you may think said rules are crazy – just don't say so.
Let's look at the various ways you can become an Australian citizen. There are two broad methods of gaining citizenship:
- By descent – when you claim citizenship by your parentage or location of your birth.
- By conferral – when you ask for citizenship based on your visa status. In the second group you must first have established permanent residency.
1. Born in Australia
A child born in Australia with at least one parent who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident, is automatically an Australian citizen.
Children born in Australia, and who live their first 10 years in Australia, are also Australian citizens regardless of their parent's immigration status.
2. Your parent was/is an Australian
So yes, you may well have the right to an Australian passport, just because your parent has one, even if you've never visited the country! If your parent claimed citizenship by descent, rather than birth, then they need to have lived in Australia for at least two years prior to your birth.
Up until 2002, Australia did not recognise dual citizenship, and Australians could lose their citizenship if they took up another country's. This rule was amended in 2002 so children of former Australians who lost citizenship under this rule (plus the former citizens themselves), can also claim citizenship.
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3. Spouse/partner or close relative of an Australian
If you are a spouse or de facto partner (including same-sex) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you can apply for temporary visa. These visas are heavily scrutinized by Australian authorities and will probably require an interview to establish the legitimacy of the relationship.
The visa is issued on a two-year probationary basis before permanent residency can be applied for. Only then can the spouse or family member consider applying for citizenship.
4. New Zealanders living in Australia
If you are a NZ citizen who moved to Australia before 27 February 2001, you should be able to apply for Australian citizenship without first getting permanent residency.
If you moved to Australia after that date, you need to apply for a permanent residency first. Any children born to NZ citizens living in Australia after this date are also not automatically citizens, unless they live in Australia until age 10.
5. You acquired permanent residency and reside in Australia
You can apply for citizenship, providing that:
- You have a permanent residency visa, and
- Have lived in Australia legally for four years, and
- Have not been absent for more than a year in those four years, and
- Have not been absent for more than 90 days in the last year
Plan those overseas trips carefully! The Residence Requirements Calculator can help to establish your eligibility.
It's a good idea to hang onto any passport that expires while you are living on a permanent visa so that you can prove your arrival and departure dates from Australia.
The process to become an Australian citizen
Once you have established that you are eligible for citizenship, the next step is to collect the relevant documents that you need to prove your claim.
What you need to do
Documents need to be certified by a suitably qualified person. The person who certifies your document must:
- Be an Australian citizen, and
- Have known you for at least a year, and
- Is not related to you and
- be easy to contact by telephone during working hours
They must be working in a list of acceptable professions which include everything from a lawyer, chiropractor, bank officer, teacher or employee of Australia Post. If you are applying from outside of Australia, then the requirement for the certifying person to be an Australian citizen is waived.
You lodge your application online, with scanned relevant documents and photos. The department aims to get you are final answer within 60 calendar days.
Passing the Australian citizenship test
You should prepare to pass the Citizenship test – a multi-choice test based on Australia's culture and politics which you will need to get 15 out of 20 questions right.
Once you have Australian citizenship
Once your citizenship has been approved you will be sent an invitation to your local Citizenship ceremony, run by the local council. This is more than just a formality- you will not be issued an Australian passport until you have made the pledge of allegiance at a ceremony.
Once you have your citizenship you should also enrol to vote. It's compulsory for Australian citizens to enroll and vote in Federal elections.
Why become an Australian citizen?
Despite the hype and patriotism of the government's citizenship website – most migrants decide to become citizens because of convenience and certainty. Once you are a citizen, with very few, extreme, exceptions, you can't lose that citizenship.
You have certainty that you can continue to live and work in Australia, and that any children you have will have that same right.
Travelling as an Australian
You can also come and go through Australia's major airports, avoiding the immigration lines, by passing through the automated Smartgate barriers.
Even if you plan to leave the country, it's a very good idea to take out citizenship before you depart. If you decide to return you have the absolute right to do so – visa rules, which can change, no longer affect that. You can also seek help from Australian embassies overseas.
An Australian passport means that, at last count, you could enter 138 countries without a visa. Australia also has diplomatic representation in many countries of the world, which will help citizens who are in serious trouble.
Other benefits of Australian citizenship
Lower down your list of priorities, as an Australian citizen you can also:
- Vote in elections and stand for parliament
- Work in the public service and defence forces
- Have the right to live and work in New Zealand
There is a long trail of paperwork and frustration getting Australian permanent residency and citizenship – but it's a process well-worth pursuing.