In a bid to ensure only those who are sincere and committed about settling in Australia become citizens of the country, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is planning an overhaul of the citizenship rules to make it tougher for applicants to become Australian citizens.
The DIBP highlighted that the Australian citizenship was a privilege and cannot be demanded as a matter of right. The Government plans to minimize chances of abuse of the citizenship program by empowering the Immigration Minister to revoke citizenship of individuals who have obtained the same through fraud or misrepresentation.
Once the new rules are implemented, those who provide false or misleading information in their applications or during the visa or citizenship process may face rejection even if they have not been convicted for any criminal offense in the past.
At present, applicants are required to reside in Australia for a period of at least four years before applying for citizenship. The applicant was also required to stay as permanent resident for a period of not less than 12 months during the aforesaid four year period. The new rules are expected to mandate continuous residence in Australia for a period of 12 months before applicants become eligible to apply for citizenship.
Other expected changes are designed to minimize abuse of discretion of partners by limiting instances when applicants married to or in a relationship with an Australian citizen can include overseas absence as contributing to the residence requirement. This amendment has been necessitated primarily due to the broad interpretation adopted by the Australian judiciary.
The broad interpretation has resulted in a situation where even those individuals who have spent virtually no time in Australia were permitted to apply for citizenship. In a particular case, discretion was allowed for a person who lived less than 150 days in Australia over a four-year period. The applicant, who was working in Papua New Guinea, and whose Australian citizen spouse was living in Fiji was permitted to apply by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Under the amended rules, the applicant will be required to be in a genuine and continuing relationship with an existing Australian citizen and further spend 365 days in the country over a span of four years.
The amendments, expected to be passed by the lawmakers in the form of the Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, will focus on extracting more commitment and contributions from individuals desirous of becoming new citizens of Australia.