Citizenship of a particular country ensures that a person has certain rights in that country. An Australian citizen has the right to vote, join the armed forces, get an Australian passport and run for public office. Before taking citizenship a pledge of loyalty to Australia and its people must be made with the understanding that the new citizen is expected to share the democratic beliefs of Australia, respect the laws of Australia and uphold the rights and liberties that Australians value.
Citizenship by birth
People born in Australia are Australian citizens if:
- At least one parent is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident at the time of their birth where they were born on or after 20 August 1986
Prior to the 20 August 1986 people born in Australia became Australian citizens by birth unless one parent was entitled to diplomatic privileges and immunities or was a consular official of a foreign country.
Citizenship by birth is granted automatically so no application is required in these instances.
Applications for citizenship
For all other categories of citizenship other than by birth, an application is required before citizenship can be conferred.
Citizenship by descent
Where a person was born overseas to an Australian citizen parent on or after 26 January 1949 they are eligible to apply for citizenship by descent.
Citizenship by conferral
Migrants can apply for citizenship by conferral provided they meet the eligibility criteria. Only Australian permanent residents are eligible to apply for citizenship so a holder of a temporary visa will need to obtain and have held a permanent residency visa for a specified period of time before they will be able to make an application for citizenship.
Generally, to be eligible for citizenship by conferral an applicant must satisfy the following criteria:
- Have passed a citizenship test (this test assumes a basic level of English)
- Be aged 18 years of age or older
- Be a permanent resident
- Satisfy the residence requirement
- Be likely to reside, or continue to reside, in Australia and to maintain a close and continuing association with Australia
- Be of good character
People who became permanent residents on or after 1st July 2007 must have lawfully resided in Australia for four years immediately preceding their application.
This must include 12 months as a permanent resident immediately before lodging a citizenship application.
Absences from Australia of no more than 12 months in the four years prior to the application can be counted towards the qualifying period. Of these absences no more than 90 days can occur in the 12 months immediately prior to application.
As determining whether residence requirements have been met is technical it is best to seek advice from staff at the Department of Border Protection or check the online residency requirements calculator.
A citizenship test is not required for the following categories of people:
- Children aged under 18
- People aged 60 years or over OR who suffer from a permanent loss or substantial impairment of hearing, speech or sight
- People who have a permanent physical or mental incapacity that means they are incapable of understanding the nature of the application
- People born overseas to a former Australian citizen
Good character requirement
Before a person can be granted citizenship by conferral or descent the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 requires they must be of good character. This applies only where the applicant is aged 18 or over at the time of application and it is the responsibility of the applicant to show that they are of good character. This means that the applicant must provide evidence of their good character where an issue arises as to whether the character requirement is met.
Good character is assumed unless there is evidence otherwise. A serious criminal record would be evidence that an applicant does not meet the good character requirement, however, general conduct and associations can also be taken into account. As a result, an applicant with only minor criminal offending may be assessed as not meeting the good character requirement, particularly if that offending is quite recent and there has not been sufficient time between the offending and the application for citizenship to establish that they unlikely to reoffend. In the event that a decision is made to refuse an application for citizenship on these grounds, an opportunity to respond must be given to the applicant.
When completing the citizenship application applicants must disclose all past and present criminal convictions, including spent convictions. Failure to do so can itself be viewed as evidence of not being of good character.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.