Australian citizenship crackdown 'shifts goalposts' for Kiwi expats, lobby group fears

Tens of thousands of Kiwis living long-term in Australia have struggled to get full rights, and new citizenship changes ...
DAVID GRAY/REUTERS

Tens of thousands of Kiwis living long-term in Australia have struggled to get full rights, and new citizenship changes may represent another step backwards.

A crackdown on Australian citizenship requirements will "shift the goalposts" on a special pathway for Kiwis to gain full rights across the ditch, expats fear.

The changes could reopen old wounds about the second-class status of Kiwis who have lived in Australia for many years.

In February last year, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a streamlined pathway to citizenship for Kiwis who had been living in Australia for at least five years and met income and character tests.

Former prime minister John Key and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a new pathway to citizenship for ...
GETTY IMAGES

Former prime minister John Key and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a new pathway to citizenship for Kiwi expats during a meeting in Australia last year.

Previously, New Zealanders living in the country on Special Category Visas (SCVs) could work and live in Australia indefinitely, but had limited access to government services and no pathway to citizenship.

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As many as 100,000 Kiwis were expected to be eligible for the process, which would allow applicants to first receive permanent residency then citizenship one year later.

However, changes announced by Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday mean all new citizenship applicants must have been permanent residents for at least four years, while introducing a more stringent citizenship test.

Tim Gassin, the chairman of expat lobby group Oz Kiwi, said the announcement "shifted the goalposts" for the pathway to citizenship.

"How many thousands of people here were looking forward to it and thinking finally, after in some cases up to 16 years here, thinking we'll enjoy full rights in a bit over a year - now being told, 'You can wait four years and we're going to put a whole lot of other requirements on it'."

Gassin said the changes could also have a negative impact on Kiwi teenagers studying at Australian universities.

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Changes announced in 2015 meant SCV holders became eligible for student loans. However, Gassin said they lost that eligibility between becoming a permanent resident and a citizen - a process that would now take far longer.

"There's almost a catch-22 - either they [parents] can get their kids a student loan and the kid will come out the other end with no pathway to citizenship, or they try to get their kid on a pathway to citizenship but they lose access to student loans for the duration of their time at university."

ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

Gassin said it often seemed as if Australian immigration officials and policy makers "didn't think about the fact that there are half a million odd New Zealanders here".

"These things often get overlooked, and we end up in this sort of mess with these sort of changes announced and really the New Zealand government on the back foot and us on the back foot trying to sort it out."

There was some profound frustration amongst Kiwi expats about the "one step forward, two steps back" approach of the Australian government, he said.

"This is just Australia walking all over New Zealand again - you'd had John Key and then Bill English out there selling it as a great success, 'Look at how our quiet diplomacy worked so well', but this is what they get in return."

Gassin said the group would be lobbying the New Zealand government to protest the changes.

Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been approached for comment.

 - Stuff

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