Hundreds of thousands of Kiwis living in Australia without many basic rights could soon become dual citizens under a historic policy announced today, described by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins as the biggest “in a generation”.
Australia has today announced a new direct pathway to citizenship for eligible New Zealand citizens who have lived across the Tasman for at least four years.
It follows decades of advocacy from successive governments around a policy that treated New Zealanders like “second-class citizens”.
It will mean Kiwis living in Australia who qualify will now be able to vote; to access full housing, and health and welfare supports, all with wide-ranging consequences including addressing homelessness, crime and poverty, and people experiencing domestic abuse.
About 700,000 New Zealand citizens are estimated to reside in Australia, including about 530,000 who were born in New Zealand. Of those born in New Zealand, about 65 per cent don’t have Australian citizenship.
The changes will come into effect from July 1 this year and be retrospective. See the bottom of this article for a full outline of the pathway and eligibility.
Hipkins said the new policy would restore most of the rights Kiwis had in Australia before they were revoked in a 2001 law change.
“This is the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia in a generation.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the direct pathway was “a fair change for New Zealanders living in Australia, and brings their rights more in line with Australians living in New Zealand”.
“We know that many New Zealanders are here on a Special Category Visa while raising families, working and building their lives in Australia. So I am proud to offer the benefits that citizenship provides.”
The announcement fulfils a promise Albanese made in July last year when he met former prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, Gold Coast-based New Zealander and social advocate Vicky Rose told the Herald restoring citizenship pathways would have a “huge impact”.
“We’ve been told that this isn’t our home, no matter how long we’ve lived there. You could have lived and worked here 30 years, and when the proverbial hits the fan, there is no support.
“Our families here in times of crisis are missing out on interventions and preventative support and that, you know, can eventually push them into a space of poverty and crime.
“So improving these pathways is going to have a huge impact for people and families right now, and into the future.”
The announcement comes as Hipkins on Saturday travels to Australia to meet Albanese, part of a broader business-focused visit also acknowledging 40 years of the Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement, and ahead of Anzac Day on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra in February this year. Photo / RNZ, Samuel Rillstone
Since 1973, New Zealanders and Australians have been able to travel freely between and work in each other’s countries, but the specific rights afforded citizens in each have greatly differed.
A law change in 2001 took away a direct pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders in Australia and a lack of associated social rights.
Last year Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said New Zealanders in Australia were treated like “second-class citizens”.
It has been a sore point between the countries and is tied into the “501″ deportation issue, once described as “corrosive” to transtasman relations by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern, along with other pointed remarks.
Under the current rules, Australians coming to New Zealand can get permanent residency automatically after two years, provided they don’t leave the country, and have the right to become citizens after five years.
Kiwis who arrived in Australia after 2001 are on a temporary special category visa, and their path to residency and citizenship is similar to any other migrant - costly, and not guaranteed.
Kiwis in Australia prior to 2001 have what is called a protected special category visa, and have existing pathways.
The difficulty of getting citizenship and ease of migration has contributed to the fact New Zealanders make up the most significant proportion of those deported, numbering nearly 3000 since 2015.
Deportations ramped up after a rule change in late 2014 meant non-citizens sentenced to a year in prison could be sent back to their home country.
These deportees, known as 501s after the relevant section of Australia’s Migration Act, are often people who have lived much of their lives in Australia and with no connections in New Zealand.
Deportees have also been linked to a rise in gang activity in New Zealand and an increase in crime. The latest figures show since 2015, 1326 of the people deported from Australia had since been convicted of 11,301 offences, including over 1900 violent offences.
The issue became a sore point in relations between the countries, reaching a low in 2021 when Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton referred to the policy as “taking out the trash”.
Albanese announced in July last year a change in approach to these deportations, which disproportionately impact Kiwis, saying they would factor in how long somebody had lived in Australia and their connections.
Data obtained by the Herald appears to show Albanese has been true to his word, with deportees arriving in New Zealand decreasing dramatically in recent months, with an official policy change in March.
Experts have told the Herald addressing the pathways to citizenship will address the issue of deportations in the long term.
Earlier this week Hipkins said he welcomed the change in policy from Australia which “addresses a significant part of New Zealand’s concern around the 501 deportation policy”, namely those deported who had “no real connection to New Zealand”.
Asked if he thought improving access to citizenship would address the issue long term, Hipkins said it was “certainly a factor”.
Hipkins said the close relationship between leaders of two “like-minded governments was instrumental in reaching this outcome”, referencing the fact both countries were led by Labour governments.
“Today’s announcement brings our nations closer together. These changes will make a real and meaningful difference to the lives of many New Zealanders and their children by giving those who decide to take up Australian citizenship similar rights to Australians living in New Zealand.”
For years more Kiwis have been moving to Australia than the other way around. About 70,000 Australian-born people live in New Zealand, while about 700,000 Kiwis are estimated to live in Australia.
Asked if this change could lead to more New Zealanders heading to Australia, Hipkins said his focus was to make New Zealand a “very attractive place to live, work to raise a family so that we encourage more New Zealanders to stay here”.
“And so that we encourage New Zealanders who are in Australia to come home to New Zealand.
“That said, it’s always been a feature of our relationship that New Zealanders will for a variety of reasons relocate to Australia. We want to make sure that they’re treated fairly.”
The new law will apply to Kiwis on temporary, special category, visas who have arrived since 2001 and lived in Australia for four years and meet the standard criteria for citizenship - such as an English test, demonstrating “adequate knowledge” of Australia, and including character checks and intention to reside in Australia.
The cost will be a standard processing fee of A$490 - or about NZ$534 - which is well below the current fees of over A$4000, or about NZ$4360.
Children born in Australia since July 1, 2022, to a New Zealand parent living there, will also automatically be entitled to citizenship, making critical services available to them.
It won’t make rights completely reciprocal, for example, Australians can vote after residing in New Zealand for a year and get the full suite of social supports as a tax resident.
While the current situation has not changed for New Zealand citizens in Australia for less than four years they can get full citizenship after that period, while for Australians in New Zealand, it takes five years.
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