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Australian Citizenship

Australian citizenship is the status of enjoying and fulfilling the same rights and duties as of those who are naturally born in Australia.

The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 governs how non-citizens can become naturalised through a citizenship process and obtain Australian citizenship. Previously, Australian citizenship was governed under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 – known as the ‘old Act’.

Some of the rights that are exclusive to Australian citizens include the following:

  • The right to vote;
  • Eligibility to seek election for public office;
  • Privilege to hold an Australia passport;
  • The chance to work in the Australian defence force and the federal government;
  • The right to secure aid from an Australian official while outside the country;
  • If your offspring were born overseas, they will be considered Australian citizens through decent;
  • The right to leave and re-enter Australia without restrictions and avoid deportation;
  • Deferment of university expenses;
  • The right to adopt children;
  • The chance to participate and represent Australia in international sporting events; and
  • Hold full residency rights in New Zealand without expiration or risk of losing these rights.

Australian citizenship is about being a part of the community. As such there are duties and obligations attached to the enjoyment of citizenship of Australia. These include the following:

  • Defend the country should the situation call for it;
  • Register for and vote at all elections and referenda; and
  • Serve on a jury, if requested upon.

There are many ways a non-citizen can become an Australian citizen. The most common ways are through birth (decent) or through conferralHow is citizenship obtained?

There is no singular way to obtain Australian citizenship. The following are some of the methods or circumstances of which non-citizens can obtain citizenship of Australia:

  • Either one or both of your parents were Australian permanent residents or citizens at the time of your birth (if you were born after 1986);
  • You are a migrant of good character, hold a permanent residence visa, and intend to live in or maintain a close and ongoing association with Australia (citizenship by conferral);
  • You are a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, of good character, meet the residence requirement for New Zealand citizens to obtain Australian citizenship, and intend to live in or maintain a close and ongoing association with Australia;
  • You were born outside the country and one of your parents was a former Australian citizen at the time of your birth;
  • You came to Australia under the Commonwealth Child Migration Scheme (between 22 September 1947 and 31 December 1967, without your parents) and you hold a permanent residence visa;
  • You were born in Papua New Guinea before independence on 16 September 1975 and one of your parents was born in Australia and was an Australian citizen at the time of your birth;
  • You were an Australian citizen but you renounced or lost it by acquiring citizenship from another country under the old Act and now you want to resume Australian citizenship;
  • You were adopted by an Australian citizen as a child and the adoption process was completed outside Australia in conformity with The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption or a mutual agreement between Australia and another country; or
  • You are a child of 16 or 17 years of age, hold a permanent residence visa, and meet the residence requirement.

How do you obtain Australian citizenship by conferral?

Citizenship conferral happens when you are granted Australian citizenship by meeting the specified eligibility requirements and passing a citizenship test.  The Department of Home Affairs provides a useful outline of the citizenship by conferral process.

Generally, Australian citizenship by conferral can be granted when the following criteria is met:

  • You are generally eligible to apply for citizenship by conferral;
  • You meet the general residence requirements. Failing this, your circumstances allow you to meet the special residence requirements;
  • You pass the citizenship test; and
  • There is no reason for the Minister for Immigration to refuse your application.

General eligibility

A person is generally eligible for citizenship by conferral if they meet the following:

  • You are at least 18 years’ old at the time of making the application for citizenship; and
  • You are a permanent resident at the time you make the application and at the time the Minister for Immigration makes a decision; and
  • You are of good character; and
  • You understand the nature of citizenship and the importance of making an application for Australian citizenship; and
  • You have a basic understanding of English, knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges citizenship of Australia will grant you; and
  • You likely live or continue to live in Australia and maintain a close relationship with Australia if you were to become an Australian citizen.

General residence requirements

Under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 you will need to satisfy the following:

  • In the past four years before applying for citizenship, you have lawfully resided in Australia;
  • In the past 12 months before applying for citizenship, you have resided in Australia as the holder of a permanent residence visa;
  • You have not been absent from Australia for more than 12 months in total in the previous four years; and
  • You have not been absent from Australia for more than 90 days in the last 12 months before making the citizenship application.

Is there a citizenship test?

The Australian citizenship test was created to ensure applicants have competent knowledge of Australia and the underlying rights and duties of being an Australian citizen. The test also gauges how well a person understands English, which is Australia’s national language.

The Department of Home Affairs has a number of resources available for you to test your knowledge in preparation for the citizenship test.

Reasons citizenship can be refused

The Minister for Immigration may refuse an application for citizenship on the following grounds:

  • Your identity cannot be established;
  • You represent a national security risk;
  • You are unable to satisfy the general or special residence requirements and you are not eligible for an exemption;
  • You have pending criminal matters or you are found not to be of good character; or
  • You have renounced your Australian citizenship within the last 12 months. This does not apply, however, if you are at risk of becoming stateless.

Applications for appeal can be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal within the specified timeframes indicated on your refusal letter.

Attend the citizenship ceremony

Citizenship is not granted on approval that all of the requirements are met and you have passed the citizenship test. Instead, Australian citizenship is granted at the Australian citizenship ceremony.

The ceremony usually takes place within three months after your application is approved by the Minister. Waiting times will vary, though, between various local councils.

You will receive an invitation by your local council which you elected when you made the application for Australian citizenship. The invitation will provide you with details of the ceremony.

It is at the citizenship ceremony that you will take the Australian citizenship pledge as the final stage in completing the procedure of becoming an Australian citizen. Every qualified adult applicant must attend their citizenship ceremony. Exceptions to this requirement are rare.


Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is one of our Legal Practice Directors and the National Practice Manager. She holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master’s in Criminology. Michelle has had a varied career, working in commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. Michelle joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2011. She now supervises a team of over 80 solicitors across Australia.

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