27 February 2007

Australia passes new Citizenship laws

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Australia has approved laws that will force people to wait longer before they can apply for citizenship, and are aimed at tightening national security.

The Australian Citizenship Bill was approved by Parliament on Monday, marking the biggest overhaul of citizenship laws in almost 60 years.

Under new legislation migrants to Australia will now have to spend four years in Australia before becoming eligible for citizenship, double the current two, and the exemption age for passing a basic English test has been raised from 50 years to 60.

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Kevin Andrews said the Government believes that by increasing the minimum time migrants must wait before they can apply for citizenship, they will have come to understand Australian values better.

“The effect of the legislation is that in the future people will have to spend a period of four years of lawful presence in Australia in order to become a citizen of this country,” the Minister said.

“That’s a change in terms of the time but also a change in that previously there was a reference to permanent residence rather than lawful residence. This is important because the Government believes that immigration is a process which should lead to citizenship of the Commonwealth of Australia.

“It’s not just an event as signified by the citizenship ceremony, but a process in which we hope that people coming to this country will come to know and understand and share in the values that we commonly share in this country. And a period of four years is an appropriate time; it’s hard to think that having been here for four years people wouldn’t understand generally the process and the values which are involved.”

Also included in the legislation were mandates that give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) powers to veto a person's citizenship application if it considers him or her to be a direct or indirect security risk.

The bill also makes it easier for anyone who renounced their Australian citizenship to regain it, providing they are of good character and there will now be ministerial discretion over whether to grant citizenship to a person holding a criminal record.

More debate on the citizenship issue is due later this year with the government planning to introduce tough measures requiring migrants to pass general knowledge tests before being granted Australian citizenship.

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