‘A dream come true’: How citizenship ceremonies have moved online amid coronavirus restrictions

Online citizenship ceremonies have begun for thousands of permanent residents waiting to pledge their commitment to Australia.

With over 90,000 permanent residents waiting to undertake citizenship ceremonies, the Department of Home Affairs has commenced virtual ceremonies to ensure people can still become Australian citizens during the .

Almost five years after they arrived in Australia as skilled migrants, brothers Fadi and Faris Masarweh never expected to make their citizenship pledges from their own living room in a virtual ceremony. It is, however, the best gift they could have received in uncertain times.

"I turned 30 yesterday, and today I'm doing my citizenship ceremony. This is the best birthday present I’ve ever received," said Faris Masarweh after completing the ceremony.

يتم منح الجنسية في احتفالات عبر الانترنت
online citizenship ceremony. Source: SBS

The ceremony itself was fast, only taking around 10 minutes, as a presiding officer from the department of home affairs walked the two brothers through the process via secure video link.

The brothers’ IDs were checked first, then the officer read a preamble from the Australian citizenship regulations. After that Fadi and Faris recited their pledge of commitment aloud.

“From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”

Having come to Australia from Jordan as skilled migrants in 2015, Fadi and Faris waited five years before they could apply for citizenship, but their dream of being declared Australians was almost derailed by COVID-19 restrictions.

"We were frustrated when the [in-person] ceremonies were cancelled, and we were expecting further delays to receiving our citizenship... We were delighted to know that the government is moving to online ceremonies," said Faris.

Asked if they would have preferred to do the ceremony in-person, the pair were circumspect.

"I would have preferred to do the ceremony in-person but I'd rather not have to wait for another year-and-a-half to do that,” Faris said.

"The actual ceremony at the council is more ceremonial, as you can have friends and family attend and you make a big thing out of it, but the silver lining is that we get to do the ceremony much earlier," said Fadi.

Alan Tudge
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge speaking to SBS News about the virtual citizenship ceremony. Source: SBS

The government says so far 170 people have taken the part in these , but it is hoped hundreds of people will take the pledge every day, clearing the backlog of people whose ceremonies were cancelled due to the public health orders.

“We want people to declare their full allegiance and commitment to Australia so we’ve set up the process where they can do it online,” said acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge.

“They still have to do all the proper checks, and then they can become full Australian citizens.”

The department is aiming to process about 750 prospective citizens each day to clear a backlog that has reached 90,000 people waiting for ceremonies.

The immigration minister says applications for citizenship remain open, but due to social distancing restrictions his department cannot deliver citizenship tests or interviews in-person. 

While online alternatives for these processes are being explored, the minister says the focus is on completing the process for those already approved.

“At the moment we’re just dealing with those who have already done their citizenship test, who’ve already passed their language test and all the other requirements,” said Minister Tudge.

Chief Executive Officer of FECCA Mohammad Al-Khafaji speaking via Skype.
محمد الخفاجی، مدیر عامل فدراسیون شوراهای جوامع قومی آسترالیا. Source: SBS

The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) wants similar considerations for those who have lost their incomes due to COVID-19 and are awaiting approval of permanent residency applications.

“Those people must be fast tracked because at the moment they are not eligible for any government support,” said Mohammad Al-Khafaji, Chief Executive Officer of FECCA.

Fadi and Faris Masarweh
Fadi and Faris with their family who visited them last year in the Central Coast. Source: SBS

For Fadi and Faris today marks the beginning of a new life, now officially Australians. They say they couldn’t be happier.

“Becoming an Australian citizen means the world to me,” said Faris.

“It’s a dream come true,” added Fadi.

4 min read
Published 20 April 2020 at 7:13pm
By May Rizk, Abby Dinham