How to obtain Australian citizenship: What you need to know

04.07.17
6 minute read
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With a famously high quality of life, strong economy, and some of the best beaches in the world, it’s no wonder many people are considering emigrating to Australia. Luckily, Australia welcomes well-qualified migrants, who are coming to live, work and contribute to society. Of course, you can live and work in Australia with the right paperwork in place - but there are advantages to being an Australian citizen, such as the right to vote and easy, visa-free travel.

Whether you’re just starting the application process to get a work visa in Australia or you’re an expat already living there, it’s good to know your options when it comes to switching your visa or permit, for permanent Australian citizenship.

Here’s a quick guide to why you might want to get Australian citizenship - and how you can go about it.

What's the difference between permanent citizenship and permanent residence?

Citizens of Australia have different rights and responsibilities to migrants holding permanent residence. For example, one benefit of being an Australian citizen is that you can work in the Australian Public Service. You can also be elected to parliament, and get an Australian passport for visa-free entry to the country. Unlike in many countries, voting in Australia is mandatory, and as a citizen you have the legal duty to vote in federal and state elections or referenda. You’ll also pledge to uphold Australian values of equality and fairness.

The Australian border authorities share stories of people who have become Australian citizens, and their experience of the process. If you’re thinking of taking the leap yourself, you can check out how and why they decided to take up Australian citizenship themselves.

What are the requirements to become a citizen?

You can apply for Australian citizenship if you already have permanent residence in Australia, or you might be eligible for citizenship through descent if at least one of your parents was an Australian citizen when you were born.

Regardless of the route you’re applying through, you’ll have to fulfil certain basic requirements to be eligible. There’s an online test available online to check your eligibility for Australian citizenship, which is a great place to start.

Most applicants must meet a residency test, by showing you’ve been in Australia for the previous four years, including the last 12 months as a permanent resident. The exact calculation here is a little more complex, so the border authorities provide a helpful residency calculator online to check if your situation fits the bill.

As a general rule, you’ll also be asked to prove you’re of good character, you speak English to an acceptable level, understand the principles of Australian citizenship, and have ongoing ties to the country. For those aged under 17 or over 60, some of the requirements are waived.

Applications for Australian citizenship are managed by the Department of Borders and Immigration, and their website is a great place to look for process details, and application forms.

Can I have dual citizenship?

It’s possible to be a citizen of Australia, as well as of another country, known as dual citizenship.

Prior to 2002 this wasn’t an option. However, rules now allow you to hold an Australian citizenship along with the citizenship of another, or even multiple countries, as long as you fulfil their eligibility requirements, and the other countries haven’t barred dual citizenship themselves.

Ways to obtain Australian citizenship

Depending on your personal circumstances there are several different ways you can claim Australian citizenship. Aside from those outlined below, there’s also a citizenship route for refugees, or those qualifying on humanitarian grounds.

The rules for citizenship vary slightly for children and the over 60s. If you have any doubt which is the right route for you, it’s worth talking to an immigration lawyer who can guide you through the process.

Can I obtain citizenship through investment?

There’s no specific route to become an Australian citizen through investment. You’ll have to follow another route, even if you’re in Australia as an investor or entrepreneur, such as the permanent residence route.

Can I obtain citizenship through descent or ancestry?

You can become an Australian citizen through descent if at least one of your parents was an Australian citizen when you were born. This applies even if your parent has subsequently changed their citizenship, as long as you were born outside of Australia. You still have to meet the requirement to be of good character, and you’ll need to prove your identity and the citizenship of your Australian parent.

If you follow this route, and submit all the relevant documents, you can expect your application to be dealt with in 2 to 4 months.

Can I obtain citizenship through marriage?

There’s no special route to become an Australian citizen by marriage. Even if your partner is Australian, you’ll have to fulfil all the regular requirements to be eligible to apply, including the residence and good character rules. Having an Australian spouse or partner, however, should weigh in your favour when you need to show you have ongoing ties to the country, as part of your application pack.

How to apply for Australian citizenship

The basic route for applying for citizenship is the same, whatever the grounds for your application. You must check you are eligible using the tools available on the border authorities website, then collect the documents needed for your application. It’s possible to apply online, or using a paper form, and the application can be made from inside Australia or abroad.

Application Fees and Cost

You’ll need to submit your application and pay the fees. Once you have approval, you can make an appointment for a citizenship test or interview if this is needed.

Fees are payable for all routes to citizenship, although there are concessions available under some circumstances. The exact amounts vary between 40 and 285 Australian Dollars. If you’re applying from abroad and need to make an international money transfer, your bank might charge you more than you realise, using a poor exchange rate and adding in administration fees. A better option, if you have an Australian bank account, or know someone who does, is to use TransferWise and have your transfer processed using the real exchange rate with only a small transparent fee.

Citizenship Test

Once you’ve paid your dues you can arrange your citizenship test, which will check your understanding of the rights and responsibilities you’ll have as an Australian, and also assesses your English language level. There are practice tests and resources online.

Assuming all goes to plan, the last stage is to make the Australian citizenship pledge at a citizenship ceremony. You’ll be invited to attend this shortly after your application has been processed.

How long does it take?

The processing time for your citizenship application depends on your personal circumstances. Generally, getting citizenship through descent is the quickest route. The Australian border authorities publish service standards, which help you predict how long it will take to get your Australian citizenship. The process can take up to 12 months in certain circumstances.

How can I apply for a passport?

Once your citizenship is arranged, you can apply for an Australian passport. The Australian Passport Office is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who have a helpful guide on their website, to walk you through the application process. As getting a passport is a separate process from getting your citizenship, there are further fees to pay.

If you’re just starting out on the journey to becoming an Australian citizen, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the process is well-documented and explained online. Dealing with bureaucracy can be daunting, but you’ll get the help you need at every stage, to make the process as simple as possible.

Good luck on becoming an Australian citizen!

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