New Zealanders living in Australia will soon have access to Australian citizenship and its benefits after four years, in a major change to prohibitive immigration rules that have strained the trans-Tasman relationship for decades.
The Australian Labor government announced the changes overnight Saturday, hours before Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was due to leave for Brisbane. The changes will come into effect on July 1 and are retrospective, meaning some half a million Kiwis in Australia could soon, or within years, be applicable for Australian citizenship.
“This is the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia in a generation and restores most of the rights Kiwis had in Australia before they were revoked in 2001,” Hipkins said, in a statement responding to the change.
“Most of us know someone who’s moved across the Tasman. They work hard, pay taxes and deserve a fair go. These changes deliver that and reverse erosions that have taken place over 20 years.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was proud to offer the benefits of Australia citizenship to New Zealanders, as the countries marked 50 years of free movement and working rights between them.
“Australia and New Zealand have a deep friendship, which has been forged through our history, shared values and common outlook.”
Here’s what you need to know
- Rights come into effect on July 1, 2023.
- Applies to Kiwis on temporary, special category, visas who have lived in Australia for four years, and meet the standard Australian citizenship criteria (e.g. pass a character check, adequate knowledge of Australia, a basic English competency, will continue to reside in or have a connection with Australia) and attend a citizenship ceremony.
- Is retrospective. Those in Australia since 2001 will be able to apply directly for citizenship without gaining permanent residence first.
- Is affordable (the fee is A$490).
- Has no minimum income requirement or health requirement.
- Gives Kiwis access to services and benefits, once they become citizens.
- Allows Kiwi children born in Australia to become citizens at birth (rather than waiting till they turn 10, as they do now).
From July, New Zealand citizens who have lived in Australia for four years on the current temporary, special category visa provided to all New Zealanders will be able to directly apply for citizenship, without first having to become a permanent resident.
Applicants will have to pass a character check and basic English test, demonstrate “adequate knowledge” of Australia, and pay a fee of A$490, or NZ$534.
The change largely unwinds a decision in 2001 that restricted New Zealanders’ access to citizenship and social service payments.
Under the current settings, New Zealanders are granted the temporary visa that allows them to work indefinitely in the country, but without access to social security. To become a permanent resident, and then citizen, New Zealanders must contend with a difficult, protracted, and expensive process – the fees totalling more than A$4000.
A partially improved pathway to Australian citizenship offered by the Malcolm Turnbull government in 2016 allowed New Zealanders the ability to gain permanent residence, and then citizenship, if they lived in the country for five years, passed health tests, and met an income threshold of more than A$53,900.
Of the 560,000 New Zealand-born people living in Australia, about 191,000 have completed the process and become citizens. This is not the full number of New Zealanders living across the Tasman, estimated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to be around 700,000 – nearly 15% of New Zealand’s population.
Under the settings announced by Albanese overnight on Saturday, New Zealanders will remain on the temporary visa for four years before being able to obtain citizenship and access social security payments. Healthcare can already be accessed by all New Zealanders in Australia, under a reciprocity arrangement.
It brings access to citizenship roughly in line with what New Zealand offers Australians. An Australian living in New Zealand is automatically classed as a resident, and can become a citizen if they have mostly lived in the country for five years and pass a character test and basic English language test.
Hipkins said New Zealanders that take up Australian citizenship would remain dual citizens, and children born in Australia to a New Zealand citizen would be automatically entitled to Australian citizenship, removing a requirement they reach 10 years of age.
Asked earlier this week if he was concerned more New Zealanders would head to Australia if increased rights and benefits were offered, Hipkins said the Government wanted to make New Zealand an attractive place to work and live.
“It’s always been a feature of our relationship, New Zealanders will for a variety of reasons relocate to Australia. We want to make sure that they’re treated fairly when they’re there.”
‘I’ll be applying on the 1st of July’
Melbourne-based New Zealand citizen Oliver Alderson said a simpler citizenship process would have him filing an application right away.
“I’ve heard that it might be 1st of July …. if that’s the case, I’ll be applying on the 1st of July, pretty much.”
Alderson moved to Australia to become an air traffic controller in 2006, after being offered a job that had benefits above that of such jobs in New Zealand. He now has a wife and three children, all Australian citizens.
His family receives support under the national disability insurance scheme for the needs of two of his children. But if Alderson was to find himself out of work and in need of such disability support, he would not be able to claim it.
And, if he doesn’t become an Australian citizen, his job could be on the line. He currently works as a supervisor, but such jobs may soon require a national security check and therefore Australian citizenship, as would a promotion.
“It’s become more and more noticeable for me, the difference between myself and the rest of the family … I just can’t do everything I’d like to do.
“There’s been a couple of pathways [to citizenship] for me. But they’ve both been expensive and slow … it was like a five-year timeframe.”
Children Born in Australia
Children born in Australia after 1st July 2022 to a non-protected Special Category Visa-holder parent will be considered Australian citizens at birth.
For minors (currently under 18) born in Australia before 1 July 2022, they can apply for citizenship once their parents become eligible under the new pathway.
NZ Stream 189 Visa
From 1 July 2023, the New Zealand Stream 189 visa will be permanently closed. Applications that have already been submitted will be processed and finalised in the following months.
Non New Zealand Citizen Family 461 Visa
Family members of non-protected SCV holders who are not New Zealand citizens can continue to stay in Australia on their 461 visa. Nonetheless, if the non-protected SCV holder becomes an Australian citizen, their family members’ 461 visas cannot be renewed.
In this scenario, the newly Australian citizen can choose to sponsor their family members, who currently hold 461 visas, for a permanent visa if they wish to remain in Australia beyond the expiry date of their current visa.