Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke MP, has introduced additional flexibility to recognise the unique difficulties faced by some of our most distinguished applicants for citizenship.
Much needed flexibility has been a welcome addition to the changes which will take into account the work and travel demands that “highly distinguished prospective Australians” are often compelled to do.
Minister Hawke stated that Australian citizenship is a rare privilege, and it should not come easy. “Those who apply must meet a range of character, values and language requirements. They must also have lived in Australia for a minimum period to be eligible,” Minister Hawke said.
“However, the unique work and travel demands on some of our most highly distinguished prospective Australians should not preclude them from making the cut. That’s why I have directed the Department of Home Affairs to apply greater flexibility in applying the residence requirement for eligible people,” he said.
“Exceptional people must not be prevented from becoming Australians because of the unique demands of the very work they do that makes them exceptional.”
Currently the rules state that a person must not be absent from Australia for 12 months in the four years leading up to their application. They must also have been a permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen and absent from Australia for no more than 90 days during the 12 months before applying. Thankfully this will no longer hamper their pathway to citizenship and Australia’s ability to retain valuable citizens.
This flexibility will be of benefit not only to workers but to sports people as well. Quade Cooper who moved to Australia from New Zealand as a child and has since played for the Australian Rugby Union team the Wallabies in more than 70 tests has been refused citizenship four times. Obviously playing professional sport internationally for Australia means you are out of the country a great deal of the time, so this flexibility seems common sense.
Senator Kristina Keneally, Deputy Leader in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has been fighting on behalf of Mr Cooper and had written to Minister Hawke this year concerning the problem.
She said in a statement that she is sad that Mr Cooper has had a frustrating experience with the Department of Home Affairs but that he is “one story of the 140,000 people who are waiting up to two years to become Australian citizens despite completing all their paperwork”.
Others who may also be in the same boat due to work commitments with significant travel are ships’ crew, senior businesspeople, research scientists and distinguished artists.
The special residence requirement provides that an applicant has held a valid visa for the last four years, living in Australia for at least 480 days during that time, and must have been a permanent resident and in Australia for 120 days in the year immediately before applying.
The special residence requirement will also apply to past, present and future distinguished talent stream visa holders.