The general rule is that a person must have been lawfully in Australia for 4 years, with a minimum period of 12 months while being a permanent resident, prior to applying.
Australian Citizenship is a special privilege. It allows a person to vote in Federal, State and Government elections (“no taxation without representation”) and to stay indefinitely overseas if a person wishes.
It is a status which cannot be taken away except generally if a person commits an act of treason or has made misstatements or presented misleading documents in the application for Australian Citizenship.
There is a general residence rule, with some limited exceptions. That is, a person could be lawfully in Australia on a temporary visa for 3 years, and after a further one year’s presence as a permanent resident,, can apply for Citizenship.
In the 12 months immediately before the application, a person may be overseas for up to 90 days, but no more.
Overall, in the 4 year period before the application is made, a person cannot be outside Australia for more than 12 months.
There are some residency exemptions for people in certain occupations (members of the crew of an aircraft, sailors, those who have senior positions in certain organisations) and for spouses (legally married or de facto) of Australians who need to be overseas, and who have maintained a “close and continuing relationship with Australia” through the 4 year period prior to the application being made. The Minister has a residual discretion with spouse cases, whether to grant Citizenship.
There are other exemptions to the usual requirements for obtaining Citizenship.
Each adult applicant must make their own application.
A child can be included in a parent’s application up to the age of 15 inclusive. A child older than that, must make their own application.
Regarding children, a child born to an Australian permanent resident or Australian citizen in Australia by law is an Australian Citizen.
Also, a child ordinarily resident in Australia through the 10 year period from birth obtains Citizenship on their tenth birthday.
A child does not need to be continuously in Australia to be ordinarily resident, especially in a child’s early years when a grandparent overseas may be looking after a child. Each case depends on its own circumstances, and expert advice should always be sought before a complex application is lodged.
A child will be an Australian Citizen if born overseas to at least one Australian Citizen parent, with the birth registered at an Australian Embassy or Consular post.
In addition to showing the required period of presence in Australia, a person must also have an intention to reside in Australia, or if not that the person will maintain “a close and continuing association with Australia” if the application were to be approved.
An applicant must also pass the Citizenship Test, an online test of 20 questions. The Department of Home Affairs publishes a guide to this. A person is able to resit the examination as many times as needed. If a person fails a test on the day of the examination, the Department will allow the person to do the test again. There is a 75 per cent question pass requirement.
A person must also demonstrate that s/he is of good character. This is a stricter test than that applied in an application for permanent residence.
The Department will conduct its own criminal record check of Australian authorities. A person who has multiple convictions, even for middle level upward driving offences, may have difficulty passing the good character test.
A person must also have a basic knowledge of English language. The Coalition Government in 2017 wanted to introduce a substantially harsher English test (amongst other proposed amendments). This legislation lapsed in the Australian Senate in October 2017, and did not become law.
Citizenship applicants must be able to prove their identity, by way of lodging a copy of the biodata page of their passport, birth certificate and documents showing their current address.