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Call to Action from the Refugee Advocacy Network

The Government is seeking to legislate substantial changes to make it more difficult for people to gain citizenship, especially those from non-English speaking backgrounds. This will also impact on people who have been granted permanent visas as refugees and are who are waiting to obtain citizenship and it will impact on their family members who have arrived here for family reunification.

The proposal has been introduced to the House of Representatives, and has been referred to a Senate Committee. Over the next few weeks, we encourage you to email, write letters and lobby local MPs and parliamentarians of all persuasions to object to these changes. This legislation is designed to make it harder to become a citizen, sending the message to refugees and migrants that they are not welcome. If passed into law it has the potential to be divisive by highlighting cultural differences, casting doubt on the integrity of migrants and refugees, and significantly extended the period of uncertainly for those seeking citizenship. This action is also being promoted through the Australian Refugee Action Network.


1. If passed, this legislation would give the Minister unprecedented power over who can become a citizen, more reasons to deny or revoke citizenship, and more discretionary power, including the power to overturn the considered decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

2. The current law requires a minimum of 4 years of continuous residence in Australia to become a citizen, including at least one year as a permanent resident. The proposed law would require people to wait 4 years after becoming permanent residents, discounting the years of contribution they have made to our nation, and the effort and money people have spent while on temporary visas, and throwing the lives and plans of thousands of people into disarray. 

3.  It is also proposed that people would need to pass a university-level English language test to become a citizen, when most migrants have already had to pay for and pass multiple English tests to get their visas. The English test will also unfairly discriminate against partners of students, workers or citizens who may not have the same language skills, and refugees who may have missed years of education in the process of fleeing from danger. If one family member passes but others do not, families could be torn apart. We know that many refugees have limited access to English classes, so they would be even more disadvantaged by this requirement if passed. 

4.  If passed the legislation would give the Minister discretion to delay the making of the pledge of allegiance – we know that many refugees with permanent visas have already been denied the opportunity to gain citizenship by making the pledge of allegiance, but legislation would formalise the power of the Minister to deny people this right. This would prolong their feelings of statelessness and having nowhere to belong.

5.  It would create a new "values test" for citizenship, implying that migrants do not respect others in the way that Australian citizens supposedly do. Many Australians would struggle to meet these ‘values’ expectations.   

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