How to become an Australian citizen

Frederic Manirakiza citizenship ceremony (2018) Source: Provided

More than five million people have been granted Australian citizenship since 1949.What are the steps involved before reaching that stage?

    Shaun Taruvinga receives his Citizenship certificate from then Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a Ceremony on January 26, 2015 in Canberra, Australia (Getty Images)
Many people choose Australia day to become an Australian citizen, with ceremonies held around the country, but what are the steps involved before reaching that stage?
Amy Chien-Yu Wang
18 JAN 2018 - 11:14 AM  UPDATED 18 JAN 2018 - 4:30 PM

More than five million people have been granted Australian citizenship since 1949.

The final key step is the citizenship ceremony where people pledge their loyalty, and accept the rights and responsibilities as an Australian.

Permanent Residency


Australian citizenship recipients

Australian citizenship recipients Monika & Manish Tripathi & their 3 mth-old daughter Sahna pose for a photo before a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day 2017


Ruby Fowdar is a migration agent from Brisbane-based Australian Immigration Agency.

She explains that the prerequisite to Australian citizenship is ensuring that you are eligible to apply.

“The requirement for migrants is that they become permanent resident first,” says Fowdar.

“Even if you are in Australia on a few different visas, like a student visa or a work visa, it is not considered as a permanent residency visa.

“So you have to be a permanent resident first to become citizen.

“And once they are permanent resident and have lived in Australia for four years, and been a permanent resident for one year, they will be eligible to become citizens.”

Apply for Permanent Residency and find out more here. 

Application processing time


New Australian citizens

A family displays their citizenship certificates at a ceremony in 2011.


The Department of Home Affairs recommends applying online for faster processing time.

According to Damien Kilner from the Department’s Family and Citizenship Programme, for most applicants, the average processing time for citizenship is 14 months.

Citizenship test

Applicants must also pass the Australian citizenship test to show their knowledge of Australia and understanding of the privileges and responsibilities as a citizen.


Australian citizenship recipient

An Australian citizenship recipient displays his certificate during an citizenship ceremony on Australia Day in Brisbane, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017

“It’s really looking at: have you got a basic level of English?” says Damien Kilner.

“Being able to sit in front of a computer system and undertake the test, which is a relatively straight-forward process, takes around half an hour in general.”

The 20-question multiple-choice citizenship test is based on the online booklet ‘Australian Citizenship – Our Common Bond’ which is an overview of Australia, its democratic beliefs, rights, government and law.

“People are expected to have a look at those resource materials in preparation and then they are able to sit the test once they feel confident to be able to answer that,”

Most people pass the test with a pass mark of 75 per cent. In the year 2014 to 2015, 98.6 per cent of those who sat the test passed.

Find out more information about the Citizenship test here.

Proposed changes to Citizenship laws


Australia Celebrates Australia Day

18 new Australian Citizens onstage during a citizenship ceremony in Hyde Park as part of Sydney's Australia day celebrations on January 26, 2009


But things could get tougher for aspiring citizens, with the Department of Home Affairs proposing to temporarily ban applicants from sitting the citizenship test after multiple failures.  

“The government has indicated some changes,” says Kilner. “And one of the changes that has been indicated is three times, and if you do fail, there is a period of up to two years where you would expected to come back and resit.”

“But it’s up to passage of that legislation getting through."

The government is proposing that applicants sit a separate English test to prove that they have a “competent” level of reading, writing, listening and speaking, which is equivalent to an IELTS level of 5.0.

People aged over 60, children under 16, those with hearing, speech or sight impairments, and people with physical or mental incapacity, are not required to sit the test.


Citizenship Ceremony

Dr. Jamiu Ogunbanwo from Nigeria holds his certificate after an Australia Day citizenship ceremony in Melbourne, Friday Jan. 26, 2007.

“So, somebody would sit that as they do now in terms of the migration outcome applying for skilled visa or student visa where English language is a mandatory requirement in terms of providing evidence of their capacity,” says Kilner.

Another major change that could come into effect from this July is the extension of the required period of permanent residence from one to four years, subject to the passage of legislation.

“So, the government conducted a review in terms of the overall citizenship legislation that formed the basis of the draft legislation that was put before parliament last year,” explains Kilner.

“So, at the stage, we’re proceeding on the basis that legislation is before parliament, and then if that does pass, then it would be subject to what goes through in parliament.”

The Citizenship Pledge


Australia Day citizenship ceremony

Two women raise their hands to take the pledge during an Australia Day citizenship ceremony in the city of Waneroo, in Perth's north, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.


Once the citizenship application is approved, applicants are required by law to attend the citizenship ceremony to make the Australian Citizenship Pledge.

There are two versions of the Pledge, one that mentions God, and one without.

“Taking a pledge is a part of being a commitment as the final step in officially becoming an Australian citizen,” says Damien Kilner of the Department of Home Affairs.

“So for the vast majority of people, they are required to undertake the pledge and they’re able to show their loyalty to Australia and accept the responsibility and privileges of Australian citizenship. 

“It also signals a person’s commitment to being active member of our society as well.”

The Citizenship Ceremony


Australia Day Celebrations In Canberra

Shaun Taruvinga with his certificate at the Citizenship Ceremony on January 26, 2015 in Canberra, Australia.

About 100,000 people undertake citizenship ceremonies across Australia each year – many choosing Australia day, 26 January, as the time to take this pledge.  

Most ceremonies are held by city councils, generally lasting between an hour to two hours.

It normally takes three to six months for applicants to be invited to a ceremony once their application is approved.

“The mayor or lord mayor or a chief executive officer of the council, who’s the presiding officer, is required to read the preamble, which is specified within the Citizenship Act, which provides further information to all the attendees around the citizenship ceremony,” explains Kilner.

“There’s also a ‘welcome to nation’ or ‘welcome to country’, and the minister’s message is read, the anthem is played, and then there is the pledge made by those that are attending.”


Australia Day Celebrations In Canberra

Prime Minister Tony Abbott gives Citizenship certificates to the Taruvinga family from Zimbabwe at a Citizenship Ceremony on Jan 26, 2015 in Canberra, Australia

Soon-to-be citizens need to bring their personal identifications in order to attend the ceremony.

“What’s expected is that when somebody turns up at the ceremony, the Council or our staff would check the identity of the person attending so that we can be satisfied who they are,” says Kilner.

"So, the vast majority of people will have their driver’s license or their passport with them."

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