Australia is planning on backing down from its previous commitment given last year that citizenship for Kiwis would be fast-tracked if they met income requirements and passed health and security checks. Last year Australia’s Prime Minister made the announcement to then Prime Minister John Key. Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton recently confirmed the proposed changes to the Australian citizenship rule will apply to New Zealanders. Malcolm Turnbull had previously said the fast track under the Pathway to Citizenship program was “an acknowledgment of the special relationship between the two nations.”
The changes require people seeking Australian citizenship to be permanent residents for four years, an increase of three years from the current one year you must be resident. There will also be a more strenuous citizenship test to assess migrant’s commitment to Australia and attitudes, including their attitudes to religious freedom and gender equality.
Tim Gassin, the chairman of the Oz Kiwi advocacy group, has said New Zealanders living in Australia are working to block the proposed changes. They have started lobbying both Labor and Senate crossbenchers to block the Bill. Gassin estimated about 100,000 of the 200,000 New Zealanders currently living and working in Australia would be directly affected right away if the Bill passes.
Under the current Pathway to Citizenship program, a New Zealander who moved to Australia between 2001 and early 2016 could apply for permanent residence from 1 July 2017 if they had earned more than A$53,000 a year for five consecutive years. They could gain citizenship after one year of permanent residence.
Under the proposed new rules, applicants including New Zealanders would have to wait for four years as a permanent resident before being able to qualify for citizenship.
Gassin says this means New Zealanders will effectively spend more than 10 years waiting for citizenship, which when you consider there is a five year wait for permanent residence, another four as a permanent resident waiting to apply for citizenship, and factoring in time for processing, it’s easy to see how the statement could be accurate.
New Zealand, prime minister Bill English, has said the changes are “disappointing” and “officials are going through a process of understanding exactly what the decision is. It was one that appeared on pretty short notice with a rapid application so we want to make sure that all the implications are understood.”
“There is a feeling Australia has been ripping off Kiwis who are contributing to taxes raised. Estimates from two years ago suggest income tax contributions from New Zealanders is around $5bn a year and while that does go towards some of the services they use, they are still excluded from some payments and voting rights.” Gassin said.
“They speak English; they have a shared history with Australia – what more could you want Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian Government??” Anne Crozier wrote on Facebook. She says 99.9# of New Zealanders living in Australia met the citizenship criteria and were committed to Australia, including contributing to sport and volunteer groups and paying Australian taxes.
““Kiwis in Australia are fantastic contributors and deserve better – they deserve to be able to trust in your word – but you keep changing the goal posts and going back on your word. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Crozier wrote.
Maria Dunn and her husband Stephen had lived in Australia since 2002. They both work in in Australia and pay Australian taxes. The pair have four children aged five to 17. They recently found the $7,000 required in fees to apply for permanent residency for their two older children.
Before the changes, their two older children would have qualified for citizenship in two months, now with the rule change, Maria and Stephen believe they will have to wait an additional three years before they qualify for student loans. Due to a loophole, if the Dunns had not applied for permanent residence for the children, they would have they would have qualified for student loans. However, as they are now permanent residents, they do not qualify.
“It has left my family feeling at any moment the government can change their minds, and that’s that. There is no security.
“My husband is just about open a business and, if it wasn’t for that, I would be packing my bags. I am ready to give up and go back.” Dunn said.
Gassin has said the feeling among the Kiwi/Australian community is a loss of trust. The promise the government made of equal treatment has not materialised. He says Australians who live and work in New Zealand get treated much better than Kiwis living and working in Australia. Gassin said he is concerned many Kiwis would not bother applying for citizenship of Australia because of the constant rule changes and costs associated with an application.
“It now costs thousands of dollars to get a family through, and now they have to wait longer, who is to say they won’t wait three years and ten months and then the rules will change again?
“This has shaken the trust of a lot of people.”
Australians living in New Zealand are able to vote after one year, can access benefits after two years, access student loans after three years and apply for citizenship after five years in New Zealand.