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Citizenship delays due to national security, says Minister

Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge. Source: AAP

Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge has conceded that "bureaucratic stuff ups" are delaying some citizenship applications amid a mounting backlog.

John Lai’s wife is one of over 200,000 migrants in Australia whose citizenship applications are currently before the Department of Home Affairs.

Mr Lai and his two daughters were British citizens and his wife is a Hong Kong national. While he has already received his Australian citizenship, along with the couple's daughters, after delinking their applications from Mrs Lai’s, she is still awaiting an outcome.

The Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge says the delays are due to the increasing number of citizenship applications.

“We have been having 190,000 people each year become permanent residents growing each year. And typically a year or so after that they apply for citizenship.  And they are at high historic number presently,” Mr Tudge told SBS Punjabi.

John Lai, his wife and two children, sharing their citizenship experience with SBS
John Lai, his wife and two children.

According to the Department’s universal processing times, 75 per cent of citizenship applications are processed within 14 months and 90 per cent of applicants are receiving an outcome within 16 months of making an application.

But Mr Tudge attributes the longer wait to national security concerns.  

“There’s a higher national security threshold these days, (and) people do understand that we do have to be very careful about ensuring that we are doing the national security checks so that we can keep the Australian public safe,” Mr Tudge said.

“For most people that may be a couple of months more wait than they would have to a couple of years ago but it’s a pretty significant prize in terms of the Australian citizenship. I hope people will be patient with this acknowledging there is huge demand for both visa and citizenship at the moment.”

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge speaks to the media during a press conference in Melbourne, Thursday, January 25, 2018. (AAP Image/Alex Murray) NO ARCHIVING
Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge.

Although Mr Lai wouldn't hazard a guess on why the processing time for his family's applications have been so varied, he says: "It is interesting that even though we applied on the same day last year and passed the citizenship test with 3 days of each other, my application was approved within four months and we're awaiting an outcome for my wife even after 16 months. The only difference in our applications was our nationality."

'Bureaucratic stuff ups'

While Mr Tudge said migrants from a country with a “higher national security risk profile” may have to wait longer, he conceded that “bureaucratic stuff ups” were also delaying citizenship applications.

"That happens in a huge department- we've got nine million visa applications each and every year.

"If in that instance [Mrs Lai], if they are from Hong Kong and they think there's an unreasonable delay they could go to their local member of Federal Parliament because if there's a bureaucratic stuff up there, we could fix that actually."

An Australian citizenship ceremony

According to Department of Home Affairs data, 54,419 citizenship applications were approved during the first eight months of 2017-18, while 141,236 migrants applied for Australian citizenship during this period.  

In comparison, 139,285 citizenship applications were approved during 2016-17.

The relatively low number of citizenship grants so far this year is attributed to the period of April-October 2017 when the Department held on to new applications after announcing the citizenship reforms that sought to increase the general residence requirement and introduce a standalone English language test - something that the government is now reconsidering.

Mr Tudge told SBS Punjabi that while the government hasn’t yet decided, it was considering a conversational, primary school level English test for migrants wanting to be Australian citizens. He said consultations were also underway about the general residence requirement that the government had earlier proposed to increase to four years from the current one year period.

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