Australia ‘ripping off’ New Zealand with citizenship changes

There are concerns some New Zealanders who have grown up in Australia will not be able to go to university after school because of the proposed changes to citizenship laws in Australia. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Kiwis could spend 10 years waiting for citizenship while living and paying taxes in Australia

Gabrielle Chan – 26 April 2017

New Zealand citizens living in Australia are rallying to block the proposed citizenship rule changes in the Senate after the office of the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, confirmed longer waiting times would also apply to Kiwis.

The changes appear to junk a commitment given last year to the former NZ prime minister John Key that citizenship would be fast tracked for Kiwis who met income requirements for five years and had passed health and security checks.

At the time, Malcolm Turnbull and Dutton said the Pathway to Citizenship program was “an acknowledgement of the special relationship between the two nations”.

Dutton’s office has said the new rules would apply immediately to all citizenship applications, including those made by New Zealanders.

The NZ Prime Minister, Bill English, has already expressed his disappointment and said his government had received no formal contact about the changes. He said officials were working to understand what the meaning of the decision.

“On the face of it, it’s disappointing that New Zealanders would have to wait longer,” he said.

The chairman of the Oz Kiwi advocacy group, Tim Gassin, said New Zealanders in Australia had already started lobbying Labor and the crossbenchers in the Senate to block the citizenship bill.

Labor has not yet said whether it will back or oppose the Coalition’s changes, though the senior frontbencher Penny Wong said the current citizenship rules already focused on upholding laws.

Gassin estimated that about 100,000 New Zealanders of the 200,000 living and working in Australia could be left in limbo because they would have been eligible for the Pathway to Citizenship program.

Under that program, New Zealanders who arrived in Australia between 2001 and early 2016 and who had earned at least A$53,900 a year for five consecutive years could apply for permanent residence from 1 July 2017 and gain citizenship after one year of permanent residence.

Under the new rules, New Zealanders will have to wait three years longer as permanent residents before qualifying for citizenship.

Gassin said the changes meant after waiting periods and processing, Kiwis would effectively spend more than 10 years waiting for citizenship, while working and paying tax in Australia.

“It’s become increasingly politically charged, bolstered by the New Zealand media who take a keen interest,” he said.

“There is a feeling Australia has been ripping off Kiwis who are contributing to taxes raised. Estimates from two years ago suggest income tax contributions from New Zealanders is around $5bn a year and while that does go towards some of the services they use, they are still excluded from some payments and voting rights.

“This decision leaves many Kiwis in a permanent limbo.”

Gassin said his organisation had been inundated with inquiries since the rule changes were announced, including on social media.

Anne Crozier’s comment on Facebook was typical of the sentiment. She said 99.9% of Kiwis living in Australia met the citizenship criteria and were committed to life in Australia, paying tax, contributing to sport, volunteer groups and helping others.

“They speak English; they have a shared history with Australia – what more could you want Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian Government??” Crozier wrote.

“Kiwis in Australia are fantastic contributors and deserve better – they deserve to be able to trust in your word – but you keep changing the goal posts and going back on your word. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Maria and Stephen Dunn have lived and worked in Australia since 2002. They have four children aged five to 17, who know of no other country outside Australia.

The couple scraped together $7,000 for the fees to apply for permanent residency for their two older children as they neared university. Those children would have three months before they would qualify for citizenship, prior to the Coalition’s rule change. Now their parents believe they have will have to wait a further three years before they qualify for student Help loans.

Due to a loophole in the change, if the children had not been granted permanent residency last year, they would have qualified for student loans under their previous status.

“I have been sobbing all morning,” Maria Dunn said. “Now the children will not qualify because we are doing the right thing and going for citizenship.

“It has left my family feeling at any moment the government can change their minds and that’s that. There is no security.

“My husband is just about open a business and, if it wasn’t for that, I would be packing my bags. I am ready to give up and go back.”

Dunn said she had not contacted any members of parliament because she doesn’t have a right to vote.

“I can’t vote so they don’t give a damn about me,” she said. “The New Zealand government should give Australians exactly the same rights as we get here but they can’t really do much else. They are like the little brother scared to piss off big brother.”

Dunn is holding out hope that the government will at least relent and allow those now stuck on permanent residency for three extra years access to student loans.

Gassin said much of his feedback related to a loss of trust among the Kiwi Australian community in government promises of equal treatment which never materialised. He said Australians who live and work in New Zealand get treated much better than the reverse.

Australians have voting rights after a year, are eligible for unemployment and sickness benefits after two years, get access to student loans after three years and can apply for New Zealand citizenship after five years.

Gassin said given the costs of applications for citizenship, he felt many Kiwis would not bother applying because of the constant rule changes. “There have been a lot of changes applied over the years, including promises that haven’t eventuated,” he said.

“It now costs thousands of dollars to get a family through and now they have to wait longer, who is to say they won’t wait three years and 10 months and then the rules will change again?

“This has shaken the trust of a lot of people.”

The immigration minister’s office and the immigration department have been contacted for clarification about the changes.

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[Read the Guardian article].

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