Refugee Council of Australia
Citizenship ceremony

Delays in citizenship applications for permanent refugee visa holders

Citizenship test

The citizenship test remains an additional barrier for people from refugee backgrounds, with three people consulted indicating they had failed the test. The test consists of a set of 20 multiple choice questions in English, relating to Australian values, history, culture and the political system. For refugee and humanitarian entrants, who typically arrive in Australia with little or no English language skills and may have a history of disrupted education (or, indeed, may never have received formal education), the Citizenship Test can present a significant hurdle. In 2013-14, 92.4% of refugee and humanitarian entrants passed the citizenship test, compared to the overall success rate of 98.7%. In addition, some refugee and humanitarian entrants may choose not to attempt the test at all because they have not yet attained a sufficient level of English.

Through our research, RCOA has heard from people who failed their initial test, but were never invited to re-sit the test. Another person was told they would be provided with further information regarding a course for the citizenship test, but again has not heard from the Department.

RCOA has also heard from psychiatrists who have written letters indicating their patients have a significant mental incapacity which means they are not capable of successfully completing the test. While these people would generally be exempt from the test, RCOA has been informed that since late last year a number of these psychologist’s reports have been rejected. As one psychologist has informed us:

Until September/October 2014, these applications were successful, the clinical report accepted and citizenship granted. However, since that time, of 22 applications that I have supported, there have been 4 responses, all rejecting the applications. In all cases the assessor has stated: I am not satisfied that this information is conclusive evidence that your medical condition is a permanent or enduring incapacity….. I have therefore decided to give this report little weight in my assessment. The other 18 people, who are all holders of 866 visas, there has been no decision made in any of their applications. Some of these claims have been lodged some 11 to 12 months ago.

Babies born in Australia to stateless parents

Under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, children who are born in Australia do not automatically acquire Australian citizenship. They will only be granted Australian citizenship if at least one of their parents is an Australian citizen or permanent resident at the time of their birth. Otherwise, a child born in Australia is automatically granted citizenship after residing continually in Australia for 10 years.

Section 21(8) of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 provides another right to citizenship by birth, through conferral, for stateless babies born in Australia. Children who born in Australia, are not and have never been citizens of any country and are not entitled to acquire the citizenship of another country – that is, children who would otherwise be stateless – must be granted Australian citizenship. There is no discretion for the Minister for Immigration to refuse a citizenship application for a child in these circumstances.

In recent years, a number of children have been born in Australia to parents who arrived in Australia by boat without documentation and are therefore subject to deterrence measures such as offshore processing and denial of access to permanent residency. As a result of legislative amendments introduced in late 2014, these children are considered, like their parents, to be “unauthorised maritime arrivals” – despite the fact that they did not themselves arrive in Australia by boat – and are therefore subject to the same punitive policies as their parents. These changes apply retrospectively, meaning that they will affect children who were born before the amendments were introduced.

However, children born under these circumstances whose parents are stateless or who are stateless by virtue of the citizenship legislation in their parents’ countries not granting them citizenship, should be eligible for Australian citizenship under the Citizenship Act. This would also mean that they would not be subject to these deterrence policies. As yet, neither the current Minister for Immigration nor his predecessor have acted on their obligations to grant citizenship to these children, despite the fact that they have no discretion to refuse them citizenship. Given that these children are unambiguously eligible for Australian citizenship, the reasons for this delay remains unclear.

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