Refugee Council of Australia
Citizenship ceremony

Delays in citizenship applications for permanent refugee visa holders

Impact of citizenship delays and concerns regarding the application process

Denial of family reunion

Each year as part of RCOA’s annual consultations, community members and service providers across Australia highlight the devastating psychological, economic and social impacts of family separation. A common refrain from people from refugee backgrounds who have participated in RCOA’s consultations in previous years, which was again repeated in this consultation, is that the physical security offered by Australia is offset by the ongoing mental anguish of family separation.

A community member in Sydney stated that “we love this country. This country gave us peace. But we can’t find the peace inside our heads, because we are split”. An Afghan asylum seeker who had arrived as an unaccompanied minor similarly commented that “while your family is back in a not safe place and almost you are losing them, what is the point of you being safe? You will be physically safe [but] you will not be mentally safe.”

This devastating impact is made even harsher by Ministerial Directive 62, a policy which places applications for split-family reunion by those who arrived by boat as the lowest processing priority. Given the large number of applications and the quota on these applications, this policy makes family reunion under the humanitarian program effectively impossible for those who arrived by boat, leaving thousands without the chance to propose their family for resettlement.

Once a person receives Australian citizenship, they are apparently more likely to have their family reunion application processed, as they are no longer prohibited by the Ministerial Directive. However, these delays in citizenship are now affecting the very people who are also denied family reunion, creating significant trauma, stress and anxiety.

Almost every person consulted spoke of their fear and worry about the safety of their family members. As one participant noted: “I have a lot of tensions about my family, they are not safe in Pakistan. If I can get a ceremony, I can bring them to Australia.”

Many noted the high level of stress is causing significant physical and mental health problems. One man from Afghanistan exclaimed that:

My children are living in Pakistan. They are in a bad situation. I am intending to bring my family here, so to do that, I need to get my citizenship as soon as I can. I have a lot of pressure about this situation. I am receiving medical treatment because I am experiencing a high level of anxiety.

Likewise, RCOA has heard from psychologists and other mental health professionals regarding the psychological distress these delays are causing people. As one psychologist has provide:

As you would be aware, these men cannot continue the processes of sponsorship of their families’ migration to Australia until they acquire citizenship. This obstruction has caused them all severe emotional distress and extreme anxiety. It has severely aggravated their already precarious psychological health. Whilst their families’ cases are held in abeyance, their psychological condition will endure and deteriorate. (This is clinically very apparent.) They suffer extreme helplessness and despair and there is little doubt that the long delays in processing their citizenship applications is a strong contributing factor in their severe emotional distress. In summary, the prolonged delays in processing of applications for citizenship, particularly in the case of 866 visa holders is causing acute and severe mental distress.

Inability to visit family

In addition to not being able to sponsor family to come to Australia, the lack of citizenship makes it very difficult for people to visit their family overseas. Without an Australian citizenship, many expressed concern that their lives would still be in danger if they were to travel to their country of origin, as they are not afforded diplomatic protection as they would once they receive citizenship. While most people are eligible for an Australian travel document, many countries do not issue visas to those with such documents. For example, Indonesia does not provide a visa to a person with an Australian travel document, leaving one participant to express frustration regarding the delays: “My mother is very sick in Indonesia. I want to go visit them. I am worried it will be the last time I will see them. If something happens I can’t forgive myself.”

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