Numbers of Kiwis becoming Australian citizens collapse with law change

Research by a Victoria University of Wellington researcher confirms an Australian law change in 2001 has led to a collapse in the number of Kiwis becoming Australian citizens.

25 August 2017

The research is an offshoot of a larger PhD project by Te Kawa a Māui’s Paul Hamer, and is a collaboration with race relations and immigration expert Professor Andrew Markus from Monash University.

By analysing Australian census data, the researchers found of the 146,000 New Zealand-born migrants who arrived in Australia between 2002 and 2011 and were resident by 2016, only 8.4 percent had gained Australian citizenship by 2016. The numbers are even lower for New Zealand-born Māori, with less than 3 percent becoming Australian citizens.

This compares to citizenship uptake rates of between 40 to 50 percent by 2016 for New Zealand-born people arriving in Australia between 1985 and 2000.

The researchers ascribe the low numbers to the restrictions imposed in February 2001 that removed the eligibility of Kiwis arriving after that point from applying directly for citizenship unless they first obtained a skills-based permanent visa.

Mr Hamer says in 2001, the Australian government considered about 40 percent of New Zealand settlers would qualify for a permanent visa and therefore be eligible for citizenship.

“The reality is, far fewer have applied. Census data show that more than 220,000 New Zealand-born migrants have arrived in Australia since the law change. And yet only 14,500 permanent visas had been granted to this group by earlier this year.”

He says Kiwis have always had a much lower take-up rate compared to other migrant groups because citizenship had little bearing on their rights, but since 2001 have also had limited choice.

“Many have been deterred from applying for a permanent visa by the expense and uncertainty of the process. A base application fee is A$3,670 for an individual and, with associated costs, it would set a family of four back more than A$10,000. Even then there has been no guarantee of acceptance, as the Department of Immigration decides which skills to prioritise and the number of visa grants is capped.”

In July this year, “to acknowledge the special bilateral relationship”, the Australian government established a new pathway to permanent residence for New Zealand citizens.

The pathway permits Kiwis who arrived in Australia between February 2001 and February 2016 to apply for a new permanent visa that is dependent on having earned above A$53,900 for four successive years. After holding this visa for a year, they are eligible to apply for citizenship.

But, given the ongoing expense of the application, Mr Hamer doubts the change will significantly alter New Zealanders’ take-up of Australian citizenship.

“In the first month, we saw the number of applications for this visa was lower than expected. This new pathway has a lot of ground to cover if it’s to make up for 15 years of low take-up rates of New Zealanders obtaining Australian citizenship.”

Visit the The Conversation to read more about the research.

[Read the Victoria University of Wellington article].

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