Australia to fast track citizenship for New Zealanders
Australia has announced plans to make it easier for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders living in the country to become Australian citizens.
From July 1, they can apply for citizenship as long as they have lived in Australia for four years or more and arrived after 2001.
They will also no longer need to apply for permanent residency first to be eligible for citizenship. New Zealand has campaigned for reform since visa rules toughened in 2001.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement on Saturday, a day ahead of a visit by his New Zealand counterpart Chris Hipkins.
“We know many New Zealanders are here on a special category visa while raising families, working and building their lives in Australia. So I am proud to offer the benefits that citizenship provides,” Albanese said in a statement.
It is expected to affect up to 350,000 New Zealanders currently residing in Australia.
New Zealand’s Chris Hipkins, who is due to visit Brisbane on Sunday, hailed the changes as “the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia in a generation”.
It also “restores the rights Kiwis had in Australia before they were revoked in 2001,” he said in a statement.
New Zealand has long been calling for these changes since visa rules for their nationals living in Australia were toughened more than two decades ago.
In 2001, a special category visa was introduced restricting New Zealanders’ access to certain health and welfare support.
It also required them to apply for permanent residency before seeking citizenship — an often lengthy and costly process.
New Zealander Scott Bowley said he and his Swedish wife, who live in Melbourne with their two children, were happy to hear the news overnight.
The changes mean he and his family would have access to government assistance — such as unemployment benefits — after becoming citizens.
“It takes away a level of uncertainty and if you do fall on hard times, you can lean on the government a bit more,” he told the BBC.
He said his second child, who was born last December, will now also automatically be entitled to Australian citizenship.
Fellow New Zealander Nicole Westrupp, who works at a children’s hospital in Melbourne, said she had given up trying to get permanent residency due to her medical role being considered too niche and the thousands of dollars it cost to apply.
“There was no path for me until now,” she told the BBC. The changes mean she can now get access to extra support if needed, such as housing grants, but it also means she is eligible to vote.
“Up until now I haven’t been able to vote and I feel passionately about voting — I live here and pay taxes but can’t have a say over who runs the country.”
Authorities in Australia say the changes now put the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia on a level playing field with Australians living in New Zealand.
About 670,000 New Zealanders currently live in Australia, with about 70,000 Australians in New Zealand.