Refugee Council of Australia
Citizenship ceremony

Delays in citizenship applications for permanent refugee visa holders

Research into citizenship delays


Over the last six months, RCOA has been contacted by former refugees and member organisations expressing concern regarding the time that people are waiting to receive their citizenship. In order to research this issue, RCOA conducted a face to face consultation in Melbourne with over 50 participants and also held an online survey which was completed by 138 people. Those whom we consulted face to face also completed the survey. In addition, three further people consulted indicated they had failed their citizenship test, and their responses were not included in the data. Participants in the online survey were from all states and territories in Australia. This initial research has also been supplemented with consultations with migration agents, lawyers and academics who have significant experience with this issue.


DIBP claims to process 80% of citizenship applications within 80 days. DIBP’s Annual Report for 2013-2014 notes that the standard for processing was 60 days, and 74.5% of applicants were processed within this timeline. However, 83% of respondents have been waiting for more than 80 days since lodging their citizenship application. 20 people have been waiting for over one year. The three longest waiting times have been 603, 623 and 682 days. 89% of respondent had arrived in Australia by boat, signalling that these delays are disproportionately affecting people based on their mode of arrival.

The average time that participants have been waiting for their citizenship is 215 days. 73% of respondents were yet to undertake the citizenship test, while 27% had successfully completed the test. For those who have not completed the test, the average wait is 159 days. For those who have completed the citizenship test and are yet to attend a ceremony and receive their citizenship, the average total wait is currently 357.25 days, while the average wait time since completing the test is 270 days. RCOA has not heard of any respondents who have received citizenship after completing this survey, and thus the delays are likely to continue to increase.

These delays are occurring either when a person has applied for citizenship and is waiting to sit the test or when they have completed the test and are waiting to attend a ceremony. Some people who are waiting to attend a ceremony have been sent an approval letter by the Minister for Immigration while others have not heard anything since sitting the test.

Only one person consulted had applied for citizenship before September 2013, indicating that these delays have started to occur since the Coalition Government came to power. While RCOA has asked the Australian Government if there has been any formal policy change, we have not received any information from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection or his Department.

A significant majority of participants applied for citizenship while on an Onshore Protection Visas (subclass 866), followed by 3% on Special Humanitarian Visas (subclass 202). Other participants were on Orphan Relative visas (subclass 117), Business Innovation and Investment visas (subclass 188), Refugee visas (subclass 200), Women at Risk visas (subclass 204) or Partner visas (subclass 801), when they applied for citizenship. 2% of people were unaware of their visa type.

A large majority (85%) of people surveyed arrived from Afghanistan. This was followed by 8% from Iran, a small proportion (2%) from Iraq and Pakistan and 1% of those surveyed coming from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and South Sudan respectively.

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