24 Apr 2023

Kiwis in Australia celebrate new citizenship pathway

4:51 pm on 24 April 2023
Residents observe a moment of silence at dawn in front of the Opera House in Sydney on April 25, 2020. - Australians and New Zealanders stood outside their homes across the country at dawn on April 25 to honour their war dead after the Covid-19 lockdown forced the cancellation of traditional remembrance day services. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)

Under changes announced by the Australian government at the weekend, from 1 July, New Zealanders who have been on the Special Category Visa and lived in Australia for four years will be able to get citizenship. Photo: AFP

New Zealanders who have made their lives in Australia say the relaxed pathway to citizenship announcement will provide them and their families with some much-needed security.

From 1 July, New Zealanders who have been on a Special Category Visa and who have lived in Australia for four years will be able to get citizenship.

Oliver Alderson, a New Zealander who has been living in Australia for almost two decades, told Morning Report the move was fair and a great relief to him.

His wife and their three children are Australian citizens, but Alderson said the cost and timeframe of becoming a citizen himself had proved prohibitive so far.

"I've worked here for the last 17 years so I've always paid taxes into the system but it was always slightly worrying to know that, if I had lost my job or had an accident that had taken me off work or something like that, then there's no safety social net in place," he said.

"I might've had to leave the country pretty quickly so I'm very happy that that'll be a big weight off my shoulders in the future."

Alderson said his lack of Australian citizenship made him the "odd one out" in his family and incoming changes to some of the requirements for his work as an air traffic controller meant he would need to be a citizen if he wanted to progress his career in the future.

"[The announcement is] a great relief for me."

Fellow New Zealander in Australia, Kelly Patchett, said she was able to become an Australian citizen in 2016 due to her protected Special Category Visa, but her 14-year-old son, who had lived in the country with her for 11 years was still not a citizen.

"At the moment if I sponsored him as a citizen it'd cost me $2950 to get that, to get permanent residency for him first and then get the citizenship," she said.

The changes meant it would now be much easier for him to also become an Australian citizen, which she said was important to her as she was a solo parent without a lot of family support in Australia.

"If I got ill ... there's no stability, and that would mean, holy moly, what do we do? Do we move home? Because that's all we've got left."

She said the moves would allow her son to engage equally in life in Australia with his friends.

"I was one of the lucky ones as a protected SVC holder ... but my son definitely doesn't have that stability at the moment so we're really looking forward to the 1st of July so we can put the paperwork straight in and get him security here."

Alderson said he did not think the announcement would see a big surge in Kiwis looking to move across the Tasman because the opportunity to do that was already there.

But the changes would be significant for those New Zealanders who had already committed to Australia and established lives there, he said.

"It's a recognition of that by the Australian government so I think that's just a very fair thing."

'It's not often you get this kind of win'

The chair of the Oz Kiwi Association, which has been campaigning for reform to allow New Zealanders an easier pathway to Australian citizenship since 2013, said she believed there would be high uptake of Australian citizenship by Kiwis once the changes came into effect.

Joanne Cox told Morning Report the policy change was significant and would affect around 300,000 - 350,000 people.

"For us to get this across the line is enormous and it's going to mean an awful lot to a large cohort of New Zealanders who call Australia home," she said.

"It's not often that you get this kind of win in a policy space."

Cox said the Special Category Visa, which had been in place since 2001, had been disenfranchising for New Zealanders in Australia.

"Really, Kiwis have been relegated to second-class status with the temporary nature of the Special Category Visa and not having a pathway to citizenship, so this is an enormous reform."

The changes would allow New Zealanders living in Australia to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in the country they lived in, she said.

"I'm expecting that the uptake will be quite high for taking up citizenship from 1 July."

'I do fear that we could see an exodus of Kiwis'

National's deputy leader, Nicola Willis, told First Up it was right that New Zealanders living in Australia would be getting an easier pathway to citizenship, but she was concerned the announcement would see more New Zealanders crossing the ditch.

Nicola Willis

Nicola Willis Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I do fear that we could see an exodus of Kiwis to Australia if we don't double down on making sure we reduce the cost of living and lift incomes here at home, so we can keep talented Kiwis in New Zealand."

Willis said the rights this week's announcement established had previously been available to New Zealanders in Australia.

"They were taken away, they shouldn't have been, and it's fair that it's now back to a situation where New Zealanders in Australia get those rights, but we should make no mistake - this is going to make Australia an even more attractive destination for some New Zealanders."

She said New Zealand businesses needed support to grow, which would lead to an increase in the economy's output and make the country more productive.

"When I look across New Zealand, I see industries that want to grow, and I think we need to back them. That means making sure they've got workers, getting regulation that's in the way out of the way, making sure we're not imposing new costs on them."

Willis said if businesses were backed to grow, New Zealand could have the higher incomes and wages that Australia had enjoyed for a long time.

"We do need to attract people who are highly skilled because often it's those gaps that will hold a business back," she said.

"We've got to compete with Australia and Canada and the UK, who have pretty good conditions for new migrants coming to their countries and we've got to make sure our conditions are good too."

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