How do changes to government policy impact new arrivals’ communities and the celebration of people becoming citizens? This presentation by Chris Hazelman will explore the processes to become an Australian citizen, the complexity of citizenship laws in the context of individual experiences of new arrivals and the government’s proposed changes to the Australian Citizenship Test.
In a previous life I had the privilege to officiate at ceremonies conferring citizenship on our newest Australians. The joy and pride on the faces of recipients was always something I thought remarkable given that so many natural born Australians seemingly take it for granted.
In those days persons becoming citizens were required to take an individual oath of allegiance which did create some language difficulties and today the oath is delivered in a group setting. Not something I totally agree with as it diminishes the significance of the oath itself and the individual’s responsibilities.
To become an Australian citizen, depends on individual situations however there is basic criteria that you need to fulfill such as residing in the country for certain periods of time and applicants need to determine if they meet these requirements before beginning their application.
- E1 – Permanent Resident of Australia / Migrant with Permanent Residency
- E2 – Spouse or partner of an Australian citizen
- E3 – Citizen of New Zealand living in Australia
Of course those three broad pathways contain many individual journeys and experiences. For example the criteria do not mention refugees who are processed through various criteria and eventually can become citizens through the Permanent Residency qualification.
Being a nation largely of immigrants our citizenship laws are somewhat cumbersome and many people hold dual citizenship in various forms including by descent. All of these citizenship variations are occupying the minds of many in Canberra not the least the High Court in respect of Parliamentary eligibility.
HOW could someone possibly not know they’re a dual citizen of another country?
With half the Australian population having at least one parent born abroad, it might not be as unthinkable as it seems.
In certain circumstances, there are nations that don’t require any paperwork or formal process to declare you one of theirs by descent.
That’s all very messy and eventually will be determined however it does not detract from the importance and sense of belonging that citizenship provides to someone who has come to this country after many years in refugee camps, experiences of civil war and persecution, perilous journeys, detention centres and in many cases being subjected to demonization by our country’s political leaders.
In that uncertainty citizenship provides security and a level of confidence. Many migrants from NZ and England may take many years to become Australian citizens – not so our more recent arrivals – who generally become citizens at the earliest opportunity.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has introduced to parliament legislation that extends permanent residency from one year to four before people can apply for citizenship, toughens English language competencies, introduces a values test, and requires people to demonstrate they have integrated into Australian society.
The longer period people had to stay as permanent residents before applying for citizenship was a key component because it gave them more time to demonstrate they had integrated into Australian society through things like holding down a job or making sure their kids went to school.
“It is a bill that suits the times we’re living in and the government is very serious about making sure that people who pledge their allegiance to our country abide by our laws and our values”.
One could argue the motives behind this proposed legislation is more to do with a conservative constituency than any real or perceived benefit. Of particular concern is that the Government released a discussion paper inviting submissions on the proposed changes and received thousands of responses which according to the paper stated would inform the legislation. Twelve days after the submissions closed the legislation was tabled. So much for informing change.
Let’s explore the impacts that this legislation would impose.
Four years of permanent residency up from 2 years will seriously impact those seeking to participate in tertiary education. Permanent residence means they will be full fee paying and not covered by Government HECS contribution. This equally applies to skilled or business migrants or spouses and means that many people such as the Filipino get caught up in the legislation.
The standard of the proposed English test has been well canvassed in the press and the legislation proposes IELTS level 6 which despite the Ministers and Government denial is the entry level requirement for students applying to Australian Universities. FECCA have responded that the vast majority of migrants to this country since WW2 would be unable to pass such a test and it may be informative of the Governments motives that applicants from Britain, USA and NZ would be exempt from the language test.
In the USA over 50 million people speak Spanish and 40 million have Spanish as their first language.
More than a hint that changes to our citizenship laws are those of exclusion.
At the outset I talked about the joy of people becoming citizens and the security and opportunity it offered.
The reverse is also true when citizenship is denied or the processes become so complex that people are deterred from applying such as the introduction of new visa classes through the Bridging Visa process or TPVs which delay arbitrarily the decisions for these classes and eligibility for citizenship.
Nationalism and jingoism hiding behind the pretext of national security fail both the common sense test and more importantly the judgement of the international community not to mention our obligations under various treaties and conventions to which we are a signatory.
We know that Visa anxiety adversely impact many in our community who in the extreme may have family members offshore in detention or more commonly in refugee camps or living in unsafe conditions. Many locally are financially supporting people offshore and political game playing does nothing for their mental health and wellbeing.
Government policy can and does have direct adverse impacts on individuals and identified sections of our community even more so when policy is not supported by a clear rationale derived from a comprehensive consultative process but rather is ideology driven and meant to divide.
Fortunately the legislation seems doomed in the Senate and we may be able to have a more informed discussion on the benefits of citizenship to both individuals and the country.
Chris Hazelman is the Manager of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and is actively involved with many community and sporting organisations including Board positions with the Shepparton Harness Racing Club, Primary Care Partnership, Fairley Leadership Program and the Victorian Country Harness Racing Clubs Association.
Chris served five terms as Mayor of the City of Greater Shepparton. His local government history includes serving as a Councillor and Shire President on the former Shire of Shepparton for 9 years. First elected to the Greater Shepparton City Council in the inaugural election of 1997 he continues to serve as a Councillor.
Chris obtained a Master of Business Administration and is a graduate of Harvard University and Kennedy School of Government Senior Executives Program in Public Policy Development He was a Director of Goulburn Valley Health since 2003 and was Senior Vice Chair, Chair of the Audit Committee and Chair of the Population and Primary Health Committee when he retired from the Board in June 2012.