Australian Citizenship Changes - 20 April 2017





On Thursday 20 April 2017, the government announced major changes in the citizenship program. The reforms will include:

  • Requiring all applicants to pass a stand-alone English test, involving reading, writing, listening and speaking;
  • Requiring applicants to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (instead of one year at present);
  • Strengthening the citizenship test itself with new and more meaningful questions that assess an applicant's understanding of - and commitment to - our shared values and responsibilities;
  • Requiring applicants to show the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community. Examples would include evidence of employment, membership of community organisations and school enrolment for all eligible children.
  • Limiting the number of times an applicant can fail the citizenship test to three (at present there is no limit to the number of times an applicant can fail the test);
  • Introducing an automatic fail for applicants who cheat during the citizenship test.



The Government will introduce new citizenship related legislation into the Parliament, informed by responses to this paper, by the end of 2017. The package of reforms will apply to applications received on or after the Government’s announcement on 20 April 2017.


More information:

What we consider as the most important changes:

GENERAL RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT:  Applicants will be required to demonstrate a minimum of four years in Australia as a permanent resident immediately prior to applying for citizenship, with a maximum of 12 months outside of Australia in this time period. This represents a change from the current requirement which allows time spent in Australia as a temporary resident towards a four year qualifying period and only requires a minimum of 12 months spent as a permanent resident immediately prior to applying. Increasing the minimum period of permanent residence required to qualify for citizenship will enable greater examination of an aspiring citizens’ integration with Australia.


ENGLISH LANGUAGE TESTING: English language is essential for economic participation and social cohesion, and there are certain standards that must be met, especially for those who are seeking to become a permanent resident or Australian citizen. There is strong public support to ensure aspiring citizens are fully able to participate in Australian life, by speaking English, our national language. Aspiring citizens are currently required to possess a level of ‘basic’ English to meet the requirements for citizenship. This is tested when an applicant sits the Australian citizenship test. Aspiring citizens will be required to undertake separate upfront English language testing with an accredited provider and achieve a minimum level of ‘competent’. People currently exempt from sitting the Australian citizenship test, for example applicants over 60 years of age, or under 16 years of age at the time they applied for citizenship or those with an enduring or permanent mental or physical incapacity, will be exempt from English language testing.


STRENGTHENING THE TEST FOR AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP: Pathways to citizenship give new migrants the opportunity to be full and active participants in civil society. The current test will be strengthened to test an aspiring citizen’s understanding of core Australian Values. The test questions will be designed to test whether the applicant has an adequate understanding of Australian values and a belief in the importance of those values. Applicants will have three attempts to pass the citizenship test, after three attempts their application will not be approved. Integrity measures will be adopted including the introduction of a two-year bar on making a new application after a previous application is refused.


INTEGRATION INTO THE AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY: The new strengthened citizenship application requirements will include requiring applicants to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community. Applicants will need to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community, by providing, for example, documentation to the effect that people who can work are working, or are actively looking for work or to educate themselves; or that people are contributing to the community by being actively involved in community or voluntary organisations; that people are properly paying their taxes, adhering to social security laws and ensuring their children are being educated. Applicants’ criminal records are also relevant. In addition to existing police checks which are undertaken as part of any application for citizenship, an applicant will also be assessed for any conduct that is inconsistent with Australian values, such as domestic or family violence, criminality including procuring or facilitating female genital mutilation and involvement in gangs and organised crime.


STRENGTHENING THE AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT The Australian Government has decided to strengthen the Australian Values Statement by adding a reference to the fundamental requirement of allegiance to Australia and by requiring applicants to make an undertaking to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community.


THE PLEDGE OF COMMITMENT:  The Australian Government has decided to amend the Pledge to involve aspiring citizens pledging their allegiance to Australia. More aspiring citizens will be required to make the pledge at a citizenship ceremony. Any applicant over 16 years of age for citizenship by descent, adoption and resumption will need to make the pledge before they can become a citizen. Applicants for citizenship by conferral on the grounds of being born in Papua, born to a former citizen or under statelessness provisions, will no longer be exempt from making the Pledge. Exemptions to making the Pledge on grounds of physical or mental incapacity, or age (under 16 years of age) will remain in place.


DUAL NATIONALITY: The Government is not proposing to change current arrangements for the recognition of dual citizenship.

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