Waiting for Citizenship

My parents only bothered to take out citizenship a few years ago. They have lived here so long that they are part of the funiture. However they never applied to be citizens before that because as permanent residents they had all the civil liberties you would expect from a nice place such as Australia without the hassle of having to vote or do jury duty. Plus they were busy. In the end long after the kids had all moved on it was the desire for an aussie passport and the removal of the pledge of allegiance to the Queen which swung the deal and they did the deed.

Some immigrants are much more keen to tie the knot and become aussie citizens. However since July last year there is now a quiz and a longer waiting period of four years. I think that everybody should enjoy basic civil rights as soon as they arrive here, however the political rights associated with citizenship are a separate matter.

Is a four year wait before you can become a citizen too long, not long enough or just right?

I found this reference with some details about waiting periods in other countries. It is getting a bit long in the tooth but I suspect that it is still reasonably accurate.

http://opm.gov/extra/investigate/IS-01.pdf

It mentions these waiting periods for some other nations:-

New Zealand, 3 years
Indonesia, 5 years
USA, 5 years
UK, 5 years
Germany, 8 years
Spain, 10 years
Italy, 10 years
Switzerland, 12 years

Do we want residents to hurry up and become citizens? Or do we want to make them wait? What’s in it for us? What’s in it for them? Personally I can see merit in a long romance between nation and resident before the big day. I’d be much more likely to increase the delay rather than to reduce the delay. However I don’t think there is any magically correct number.

26 thoughts on “Waiting for Citizenship

  1. You’re wrong about the UK, it takes a minimum of 6 years to get citizenship, 5 years for residency. I’ll have been in the UK 7 and a half years by the time I get my citizenship here, simply because of the class of working visa I entered on.

    One of the major impediments to citizenship for many was removed a number of years ago when dual citizenship was permitted. Previously only British migrants could maintain both Australian and British citizenship. This cut both ways of course whereby Australians who took up foreign citizenship had their Australian citizenship denied.

    An interesting fact is that in Britain, Commonwealth citizens who are resident in the UK can vote in all elections.

    My opinion is that voting privileges should be extended to long term residents not on welfare, say after 4-5 years, but citizenship should not be granted easily. Six years seems reasonable. Citizenship is unneccessary if you are of good character, since revocation of residency is rare. The most pressing benefit of citizenship is ease of travel and representation by Australian embassies/high commissions whilst overseas, and perhaps taking advantage of reciprocal arrangements like the freedom of movement and residency between Australia and New Zealand, or visa free travel to many countries.

  2. Four years is plenty provided you have not committed a crime.

    I like the idea of a basic English test (on the grounds that if you havent mastered rudimentary English within four years then you’re not likely to either integrate well or get a job) but think the idea of asking immigrants Donald Bradman’s batting average is absurd.

  3. Pommy – well for starters Elizabeth is English. 😉

    Actually I suspect this was merely a convenient excuse when I used to ask Dad about citizenship. Although I do suspect a republican streak it’s never been a big point of discussion or if it has been I can’t recall how it went. Personally I’d support Australia becoming a Republic if a model that made sense was on offer. Although in some ways I feel that it would be like replacing the Sydney Harbour Bridge simply because someone had a better bridge on offer. It seems an overly academic exercise but I suspect we will eventually be a republic. Apparently Prince Charles thinks we should have done so a few years back but who cares what he thinks.

    I think the question about Don Bradman should only apply to English immigrants. It’s important that they get their facts straight when it comes to the cricket score. 😉

  4. The English test is just stupid. Plenty of people have made millions here without being able to speak English. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne can barely speak intelligible Enlgish. What’s the problem?

  5. The problem is that if you can’t speak English you are unlikely to get a job. That means you will be a drain on the State. It also shows you have little inclination to integrate into your new host country.

  6. Ideally, citizenship should be something you apply for, and which then gives you rights, like the right to vote, and to be part of public life and accept political offices.
    You should need a basic test to prove you understand what you have agreed to do, and everything that is entailed in that decision. In my preferred version, it would also mean doing some civil defence, which I would broaden to include firefighting and such, all having a time-share of governmental services.

  7. Nicholas

    sounds like a good idea for all citizens, not just immigrant citizens.

    i don’t agree with the idea of the right to vote being handed out to everyone purely by reaching 18. if people had to earn this privilege, then they might value it higher. where voting is not compulsory (ie everywhere except Australia), young people have all but given up voting.

  8. Pommygranate, that is exactly how I think of it- as something that we all opt into. If you choose to not be a citizen, or to let your citizenship lapse, then you could save money and time, but you would have a reduced indluence in public life (You could still communicate your views, obviously, just like now.). Also, public services like Police or Fire would be available first to the citizens who pay for them, or who voluntarily time-share some of the services- other people would be placed second on the list, if all other things were equal. This could be one of the known drawbacks of not being a citizen. (Non-citizens could always pay for their own services, of course, or choose to take the risks of not insuring.)
    There would be another benefit to all this- voluntary integration. The newcomer who practices fire-drills with his fellow citizens is going to have some new friends, as well as not feeling alienated from the community. A win all round.

  9. So if your house is burning down then the guys in the firetruck will need to see your passport before expending too much time on the job. Is that how it would work?

  10. No, if you called, and you were not a citizen, then you might be charged for calling them, just as the Saint John’s Ambulance service used to do to those who had not previously insured with them. If two people called at the same time, and one was a citizen, the citizen would get first call. (Membership hath it’s privileges.)

  11. In general terms, it makes sense to deny citizenship to all permanent residents and any others who do not have a continuing connection – the onus being on them to make that connection. That would let their children apply, or would let them apply if they came from (in the Australian case) a Commonwealth country with working institutions (roughly speaking, the former white Commonwealth, plus India and Ireland, minus Zimbabwe and South Africa) or if they had shown real commitment by (say) completing miltary service – but would bar those with no connection other than simple presence, to head off the “so sorry, this my garden now” infiltration problem described in Ogden Nash’s poem “The Japanese” that I have on my home page. Ironically, removing the oath to the Queen was a bad thing, precisely because it was done to make it easier for Australia to fit migrants – a symptom of the infiltration problem, though removing it would have been no big deal if that hadn’t been there.

  12. What is our motive for allowing migrants to become citizens? What is the downside of excluding migrants from citizenship for a long time or entirely?

  13. Why even allow them into the country as migrants, unless you are prepared to let them become citizens? I don’t know what the time-frame should be, but if anything is too easy, it is not valued, so a waiting-time for citizenship might be a good idea.

  14. Nicholas – there are lots of reasons to let people into the country. Getting their input on who governs the country would seem to me to be amoung the least of them.

    I think excluding people from citizenship over the very long term would possible breed resentment. However I have no specific evidence for that. Switzerland has a 12 year exclusion and it would be interesting to know how that works out in practice.

  15. P.M Lawrence,

    Aside from the practical objections (what’s a connection?) or very practical objects (where are we going fill holes in our labor market from, like doctors?), philosphically, I think your idea of migration is a recipe that would lead to the stagnation of ideas (and the enevitable decline that comes from it). If migrants come in and bring new ideas with them and happen to be more successful than the local population, is there anything really wrong with that? The Ogden poem here misses an important point — that if the “Japanese” in this case brought new ideas and was hence more successful, then he may well have benefitted everyone. (cf. What did the Roman’s do for us? or more recently what did the Jews do for 20th century science?)

    Surely the idea of bringing new ideas is one of the goals of non-humanitarian migration — if we only took people somehow similar to ourselves, then aside from practical considerations, it’s hard to see why we would do it. In addition, taking in people with different ideas has been obviously beneficial in Australia’s case. That includes culturally (say, the Greeks in Melbourne), and economically (say, the recently arrived HK Chinese in Sydney).

    Also, as a minor point, I don’t see why you are going to deny South Africans, aside from that they Africans. WHy are they somehow bad? For that matter, there are certainly functional African countries in the Commonwealth, like Botswana. There also countries run by Africans (most of the West Indies), that are culturally very similar (e.g., Barbados). Are these countries ok in your books?

  16. “Aside from the practical objections (what’s a connection?)” – if in doubt, rule them out, which is why I gave the suggerstions I did.

    “…or very practical objects (where are we going fill holes in our labor [sic] market from, like doctors?)” – if necessary, migrants, yes – but no citizenship for them. And better, remove the underlying causes of any shortfalls during the time bought.

    “…philosphically, I think your idea of migration is a recipe that would lead to the stagnation of ideas (and the enevitable decline that comes from it).” Rubbish; we don’t need migrants for that, not after we already have the ones we’ve got. To think otherwise is to think more of the same would bring new stuff. Granted, new ideas form where they came from after they’ve left – but cultural transmission needs very few more actual people.

    “If migrants come in and bring new ideas with them and happen to be more successful than the local population, is there anything really wrong with that?” – Yes, for us (the local population); contrariwise, if they don’t, there’s still nothing in it for us. Remember, this topic is about conserving, not replacing, our cultural values and material benefits. Improving on them comes afterwards – no betting the farm. Think uitlanders in the Boer republics, or agency costs and dilution of equity.

    ‘The Ogden poem here misses an important point — that if the “Japanese” in this case brought new ideas and was hence more successful, then he may well have benefitted everyone.’ – wrong, in the same way (and it’s Ogden Nash). The poem is illustrating the other case, what happens when the outsider displaces, not forgetting the potential when the outsider supports, because that was the situation when Ogden Nash was writing. But, again, we should attend to that case first or we’re betting what we can’t afford to lose.

    “Surely the idea of bringing new ideas is one of the goals of non-humanitarian migration…” – well, that neither works nor is necessary. Go and see, ideas travel in other ways, without the weight of equity dilution.

    “…if we only took people somehow similar to ourselves, then aside from practical considerations, it’s hard to see why we would do it” – well, there was a real point until the ’50s, from economies of scale and synergies.

    “In addition, taking in people with different ideas has been obviously beneficial in Australia’s case. That includes culturally (say, the Greeks in Melbourne), and economically (say, the recently arrived HK Chinese in Sydney).” – beep, you’re building in your assumptions. It’s clearly wrong, culturally, unless you measure things by the very standards created by the changes; that side is self fulfilling. And, since we have moved past the point of economies of scale, bringing in more migrants lowers the per capita availability of material benefits – so, unless they are seriously less successful than the previous population (which they aren’t), the equity dilution makes the previous population worse off materially. “Australia” is better off, but only because the newcomers are counted in; “Australia” isn’t the same thing as the previous population.

    “Also, as a minor point, I don’t see why you are going to deny South Africans, aside from that they Africans. WHy are they somehow bad?” I don’t know why their institutions that they got from our common heritage didn’t take, though I can guess, but they didn’t. So it’s not a case of being bad, but of being other. Hey, I gave India the benefit of the doubt.

    “For that matter, there are certainly functional African countries in the Commonwealth, like Botswana.” Wrong, the function they preserved is real but has deviated from what we once had in common – thus, “other”. Malawi almost made it, until twenty years ago, but they rejected the path Hastings Banda wanted. Good for them – but, not for us.

    “There also countries run by Africans (most of the West Indies), that are culturally very similar (e.g., Barbados). Are these countries ok in your books?” No, for the same reasons. Ditto I wouldn’t accept the USA, either; again, it’s not a question of good or bad, it’s a question of other or connected.

  17. PML: I have some comments on your points
    1) The practical problem is a big problem. Running a country such that there are adequate numbers of skilled professionals in all areas is exceptionally difficult (most rich countries have this problem). That’s going to be especially true of an aging world. By making stringent laws against everyone (excluding a select few), you are going to discourage some of the people you may want (why doesn’t our e.g., Indian doctor go to Canada instead?). Given the state of our higher education system now, I imagine in the best case, this problem would take decades to fix.
    2) I see immigration as a trade-off — you will win on some things and lose on others. If your immigration rules are so tight that you exclude too many people, then the trade-off is going to be worse, since those culturally close enough to you simply won’t be able to suppply you with enough people, or those that they do will not be adequately skilled. Is my Indian doctor worse than my unskilled NZ worker?
    3) I have no idea how your cultural similarity function works. Obviously culture is multifactorial, but I find it hard to see why Americans are culturally more distant than Brits (obviously it differs across age groups, but the youngest groups — those most likely to be affected by immigration, are most probably the most American-like culturally, excluding the fundamentalist Christian aspects of American culture). In addition, in aspects where the culture differs, some of the American traits are things that many Australians would probably want. For example, they have lower levels crime, are probably more entrepernerial (I don’t have data for that one), and are far less anti-intellectual. I personally would like to see Australians start using American spelling more as it would lead to lower levels of early reading problems.
    3.1) On this note, I don’t see what the armed forces have to do with anything. Most Australians don’t join the armed forces and never will. If all immigrants join the armed forces, then surely that’s diluting an Australian cultural trend away from militancy.
    4) Some aspects of culture can only be maintained via immigration. The US is a good example. They have the best science and technology in the world. One reason they have this is that the smartest people from all around the world want to work there. I can’t possibly see how the benefits they received from this (which are huge), even to the average person, have been outweighed by the negatives.
    5) You are wrong to think most people haven’t benefitted economically and couldn’t further. The HK Chinese turned Chatswood into what is now essentially a second city centre. This is something the government tried to work out how to do for years, for obvious reasons, but failed (cf. e.g. Dandenong in Melbourne). Most people in Sydney, whether they realize it or not, now take less time to travel to work because of this than they otherwise would have. Those guys are also created jobs and facilitated trade with Asia, which brings wealth into the country (and wanting wealth is surely an aspect of Australian culture). On this note, rather than just giving single examples, I believe most economic analysis suggests immigration is of economic benefit overall (and that includes groups who are obviously a cost on the community).
    6) I agree we should be careful about who we bring in (we have a political correctness problem in Australia).
    6.1) However, I think you worry too much. Most of the people that have been culturally problematic in Australia have not been brought in using the work visa rules (its mainly those who have come in on humantarian style programs). In fact, I can’t think of any groups brought in on that type of visa that have been a problem — so I think that type of visa currently works well and wouldn’t want it to be more restrictive.
    7) Of course, you worry about the dilution of current culture, rather than just things that might bother the individual. However, the way I see it is that even if people are culturally different, this is only a tiny (and essentially meaningless) dilution of Australian culture. The reason for this is that some things are simply additive (food is the obvious example — if you don’t like it, don’t buy it — and Australians had nor real food culture before immigration). Other things make no difference (I live in a neighborhood with lots of orthodox Jews, for example, but it makes no difference to my sense of non-Jewish Austrailan culture, since they mind their own business). So I think you are too pessimistic on culture preservation — Even if you don’t care for this, the amount of culture there is isn’t fixed. On that note, is there any aspect of Australian culture you can name that has been displaced by work related immigration?

  18. Fleeced – I understand that permanent residents are elligible for welfare. In that context what does your suggestion achieve?

  19. Two years is a long enough wait for citizenship. If you pay taxes you are contributing to the country and citizenship should follow automatically to working people. What you wear, what language you speak, what religion you have this year, what you think about parliamentarians is superficial and trivial. When I pay taxes I want a say in how it’s spent – that’s citizenship.

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