The Special Category Visa: protected vs non-protected, what’s the deal?

Special Category Visa
Date last modified: 18 November 2018

The status of New Zealanders in Australia is complicated due to incremental law changes that many Kiwis are still not aware of. This results in misunderstanding, misinformation, and confusion. The summary below shows the status of New Zealanders in Australia, with the necessary historical context. Please share with all your Kiwi friends and family.

On 1 September 1994, Australia amended its Migration Act/Regulations and introduced a universal visa system. Since the law change, New Zealanders are issued a temporary visa, Special Category Visa (SCV), automatically at the Australian border. The SCV issued to holders of a New Zealand passport, this has been the case since 1994 whether people realise it or not.

Prior to this, New Zealanders were effectively granted permanent residency on arrival in Australia. Between 1 September 1994 and 26 February 2001, although New Zealanders are on a temporary visa, they were entitled to certain social services. This changed on 26 February 2001, when Australia amended its Social Security Act making new arrivals no longer entitled to social security.

However, New Zealanders present in Australia on 26 February 2001, or for a period of 12 months within two years prior to that date were grandfathered, meaning the 2001 law change does not apply to them. These New Zealanders were given ‘protected’ status. We call these New Zealanders protected SCVs.

In addition to continuing to have the right to social security, protected SCVs were also given a direct pathway to citizenship. These New Zealanders are, as far we’re aware, the only group of people that can apply for citizenship without holding or needing to apply for permanent residency first. They should apply ASAP – it costs of currently $490.

Those New Zealanders who migrate to Australia after 26 February 2001, are what Oz Kiwi calls ‘non-protected’ Special Category Visa-holders. They have the right to live and work in Australia and access Medicare, at a Federal level, although at a State/Territory level they can receive certain services as determined by the States/Territories they live in.

Under Australia citizenship law, a person must be the holder of a permanent visa to apply for citizenship. The SCV is not permanent residency (PR), so therein lies the problem for New Zealanders. It’s not impossible for New Zealanders to get PR, just very difficult.

Citizenship pathway for some Kiwis

If you are a New Zealand citizen and were in Australia on 26 Feb 2001, or for a at least 12 months within the two years prior to that date, you’re eligible to apply for citizenship (subject to good character requirements).

If you were in Australia anytime for any reason prior to 1 September 1994, you’re eligible to apply for Resident Return Visa (RRV). The RRV is a permanent visa and reinstates the permanent residency you were given before the law change, thus giving you a pathway to citizenship.

Have a question?

Refer to the citizenship application and Resident Return Visa information on the Department of Immigration website.

Phone the Department of Immigration on 13 18 81 or contact them via social media. Please do not provide your personal details on a public forum.

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