The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 or the Australian Citizenship Bill, was introduced to the Parliament on June 15, 2017. Though the bill is yet to be passed in the Parliament, the changes introduced through the bill will be applicable to all applications for citizenship submitted from April 20, 2017 onwards.
Major changes proposed in the bill are regarding:
- General Residence
- Competent English
- Pledge of Allegiance
- The applicant must, in general, have been present in Australia for a period of four years as a permanent resident
- The applicant must not have come into conflict with law during this period
- If the applicant has travelled abroad during this four-year period, the days he spent outside Australia must not be more than 365 days
In short, in order to apply for Australian citizenship, the applicant must hold the permanent visa for four years. Earlier, it was only one year.
As per the Bill, the applicant must demonstrate Competent English, which demands a minimum of 6 in each band of IELTS or equivalent. Evidence of Competent English will have to be presented during lodgement for all applicants aged above 16 years. Test results up to three years can be used.
- According to the Explanatory Statement, the following categories may be eligible for exemptions:
- Passport holders of the UK, Ireland, Canada, USA or NZ
- Specified English language studies at a recognized Australian education provider
- Applicants with a permanent or enduring physical or mental incapacity
- Applicants aged 60 or over
- Applicants with hearing, speech or sight impairment
Pledge of Allegiance
As per the Australian Citizenship Bill, Pledge of Commitment will be renamed as the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge of Allegiance is mandatory for citizenship by conferral for all applicants aged 16 or above. The new changes will require Pledge of Allegiance from those who would acquire citizenship through the following ways, which was not required earlier.
- Citizenship by Descent – children born overseas to Australian citizen parents
- Adopted children (Hague Convention or bilateral agreement)
- People resuming Australian Citizenship
- Children born to a former Australian citizen
- People obtaining citizenship due to being stateless or born in Papua during certain periods of time
Meanwhile, the Australian Labour Party has informed that it will oppose the Citizenship Bill. The party has also raised concerns over raising the requirements for both residence and English language. The Bill now needs the support of the cross-benches to pass and it has been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The Committee will report on the Bill on 4 September 2017.