You're getting closer to realising your dream –Australian Citizenship. Now you're wondering, 'when can I apply for Australian Citizenship?'
As a proud Australian and Registered Migration Agent, I've seen many clients take this tremendous last step. I'm very proud that Australia offers Citizenship where many countries do not. The gift of Australian Citizenship acknowledges the migrant's investment of money, time, commitment and effort. It is the foundation for the chance for a new life in this beautiful country.
So when can I apply?
There are a few different methods of achieving Australian Citizenship, but let's focus on Australian Citizenship by conferral – the most common way. To meet the General Residence requirement for the grant of Australian Citizenship by conferral, you have:
1. Been in Australia, lawfully, for at least 4 years;
2. Held a permanent residence visa for at least 12 months before applying for Citizenship;
3. Haven't been outside Australia for:
i. more than 12 months (total) in the last 4 years, OR
ii. more than 90 days in the 12 months before making your Citizenship application.
The Department of Home Affairs website has improved considerably over the years. It contains many valuable tools for determining your eligibility for Australian visas and Citizenship.
Let's take a look at the Department's Citizenship tool - the 'Residence Calculator' This simple calculator will help you make sure you've met the General Residence requirements. But what do the entry items in the calculator mean?
Permanent Residence Date
In this section, enter the date you received your permanent residence visa. You must be clear on whether your latest visa is temporary or permanent. Most visa holders will know the difference, but in some cases, there can be confusion.
For example, Partner visas are granted in two stages – temporary and permanent. Since you apply for both permanent and temporary visas simultaneously, some visa holders don't realise that the first visa they receive is temporary.
Know the difference between temporary and permanent. You won't likely be eligible for Australian Citizenship if you currently hold a temporary visa.
Lawful Residence date
Enter the date you first were granted an Australian visa into this section. Remember, if you were granted your visa while you were outside Australia, then the time between when your visa was granted and when you arrived in Australia will count towards absences from Australia.
Intended Application date
This section auto-populates with today's date. You can adjust this to a future date if you have a Citizenship application date in mind. It may also be helpful to play around with this date if you find today's date reveals that you are ineligible for an application. This will give you an idea of when you are likely eligible.
Travel – periods when you were outside Australia
Try to answer this section as accurately as possible. Of course, the Department of Home Affairs will have records of when you have entered and left Australia. So, if you get it wrong on the application form, you will likely not have an issue if the dates are close enough (perhaps within a day or two only).
To be completely accurate, though, there is an option to apply for your International Movements Records. The International Movements Record is an exact listing of your travel movements in and out of Australia. Processing times for these records vary, but commonly you'd be looking at approximately one month to get a response from the Department of Home Affairs.
Don't forget to include any upcoming travel dates that occur before you intend to lodge your Citizenship application. Entering these dates will confirm whether your future travel plans will affect your eligibility.
Hit 'calculate' and you will be shown in a simple message whether or not you meet the General Residence Requirement.
Exemptions to the Residence requirements
Should you not meet the General Residence requirement, there are certain exemptions available. Ideally, you would meet the General Residence requirement without a request for an exemption. However, there maybe urgent personal reasons for requesting Citizenship sooner.
Here's a brief description of the exemptions available.
Australian Defence Force exemption
You may be exempt if you were granted a specified permanent residence visa on or after 1 July 2007 and you have served at least 90 days in the Australian Defence Force.
There is a broad range of circumstances where the Minister may use discretion to exempt an applicant from the General Residence requirement. As a rule of thumb, anything concerning 'discretion' in immigration matters requires extreme caution. I highly recommend you seek immigration assistance if you are considering applying for Citizenship under the exemption provision.
Some examples of circumstances where Ministerial discretion may be exercised:
· The Minister has considered you were unlawfully in Australia during the 4 years before making the application. If an administrative error caused you to be unlawful, the Minister may use discretion to treat this period as lawful residence.
· You have travelled overseas as the de facto/married partner of an Australian Citizen, for example, for work reasons. The Minister may consider this time spent abroad as if you were present in Australia.
· If you are a temporary visa holder and you are likely to suffer significant hardship. The Minister may consider this period as you being the holder of a permanent residence visa.
Special Residence requirements
There are circumstances where the residence requirement maybe relaxed, mainly if the applicant has engaged in work with an Australian organisation that requires overseas travel. The employing organisations and work types are defined, so the scope of this exemption is limited. Consult a migration professional if one of these circumstances apply to you.
Food for thought
Let's take a look at a couple of out-of-the-box examples to consider.
You notice the processing times for Australian Citizenship by conferral is around nine months. You have been in Australia for three years, three months - in other words, nine months away from the four-year residency requirement. Can you apply now? After all, by the time a Case Officer decides your application, it will be already four years in Australia.
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
The residence requirement is a time of application requirement. In other words, you must have reached the four years total/ 12 months permanent residence requirement at the time you apply for Citizenship. You cannot "front-end load" an Australian Citizenship application that anticipates Citizenship processing times.
Periods as an unlawful non-citizen
This situation is relatively uncommon, but I have come across it with clients, and it's certainly worth considering.
During the four years before lodging a Citizenship application, you may have applied for multiple temporary visas. Whilst waiting for one of your temporary visas, you spent some time on a bridging visa.
There's nothing out of the ordinary here; however, sometimes the online visa grant system may not have issued you a bridging visa at the same time you lodged your temporary visa application. Strictly speaking, in most cases, as soon as you lodged your temporary visa application, you were granted a bridging visa immediately. Administratively speaking, though, you may not have received the actual notification.
The result is that you may be showing up as an unlawful non-citizen for a period in the Department's systems.
If you think this may have happened to you, it's a good idea to go back through your temporary visa applications and bridging visa notifications. You should be able to match the date of visa applications with the bridging visa grant notices. If there are gaps, you may have spent sometime as an unlawful non-citizen (administratively speaking anyway).
The Ministerial discretion provisions may remedy this issue, so it's a good idea to get professional migration assistance in these cases. Contact us for assistance.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
The information provided in this article or anywhere on this website is of a general nature, it does not relate to your specific circumstance. This general information must not be used to form any assessment or opinion on individual visa eligibility. For an individual assessment you must contact us for a consultation session to confirm if you are eligible for any visa.