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Citizenship changes: ‘Lost opportunities’ and ‘nightmarish’ for new migrants

Simranjeet Singh Sadheora with his wife Sumeet Kaur Source: Supplied

Migrants wanting to secure Australian citizenship have been caught in a new situation. The proposed changes to citizenship laws could unfairly target new migrants, say some of the affected Indian-origin families.

Citizenship is becoming out-of-reach for migrants who already have the right to - and do - live permanently in Australia.

Here we share the experiences of four Indian-Australian families who have recently lodged their citizenship applications.

Satinder Pal Singh migrated to Australia from Punjab, India eight years ago.

With change in citizenship laws, he feels distorted. “I feel like we have lost job opportunities that we were waiting for, for a while,” Mr Singh tells SBS Punjabi.

"This government decision is an absolute nightmare."

Satinder Pal Singh
Satinder Pal Singh with his family

Satinder tells SBS that he was eagerly waiting for his citizenship confirmation.

“All my plans have changed now. I was waiting to apply for a federal job where citizenship is a must.”

“When will they accept us as members of the Australian family? For last 8 years, we have been paying our taxes and actively contributing to Australian society, yet the government is treating us like second class Australians.”

“How many times will we have to prove our English," asks Mr Singh. “We have no choice other than to be grilled by this English testing system again and again.”

“Ironically, one has to sit the IELTS exam for four times, once when you are on student visa, second while applying temporary residence, thirdly when you apply for permanent residency, and now again when you apply for citizenship.”

“No one is answerable to this English terror that is forced on us. It is becoming ridiculously annoying.”

“I initiated my citizenship application on 13th April, 2017. But suddenly everything changed with PM’s statement on 20th April. I was trying to upload my final documents on 20th April but the department’s website crashed.”

“I don’t know who is accountable for that website issue. But the department has told me that they have escalated the issue with senior authorities.”

“Newly arrived migrants have an every right to feel upset about government’s forced approach. I have started thinking if this is the new way of keeping new migrants away from the voting right.”

Simranjeet Singh Sadheora with his wife Sumeet Kaur
Simranjeet Singh Sadheora with his wife Sumeet Kaur at the Australian Parliament building, Canberra

Simranjeet Singh Sadheora moved to Australia in July 2006. His wife Sumeet Kaur joined him in Melbourne in 2012.

“Our family will severely be affected by this decision,” says Mr Singh. “My wife Sumeet started her citizenship application on 16th April but wasn’t able to complete it by 20th April 2017.”  

“The department’s acknowledgement mentions that the application has been received. But there is zero information on the expected timeline. It is a chaotic situation where no one knows what is happening."

"At least government should give exemption to those applicants who attained permanent residency during previous rules and have already cleared language test hurdles while living in Australia.”

Pavan Brar
Pavan Brar with her family

Pavan Brar migrated to Australia from Punjab, India nine years ago.

“I applied for citizenship after 20th April, 2017. But I was surprised to know that with the new rules I won’t be able to make it to the citizenship this year,” Mrs Brar tells SBS Punjabi.  

“The changes will severely affect our life. We’re waiting for this moment from last one year. But this overnight strike has ruined our plans.”

“The previous requirement was one year residency but now they have increased it to four years, which means we’ll need to wait for three more years if this law passes.”

“I wish the government could accommodate applicants who already have permanent residency based on previous rules.”

“This is cruelly unfair for migrants who have already passed through the stringent high bar set to gain permanent residence.”

“We have seen enough struggles to gain permanent residency. But I can’t understand why they are making our lives harder?”

Raman Dhami moved to Australia ten years ago. She has a long tale of struggles that took her to permanent residency.

“I was very excited to get Australian passport but suddenly government announced these changes.”

“I used to go to citizenship ceremonies to watch my friends attain citizenship certificates. I thought soon it will be my turn. But I am shattered with this decision.”

“If the law passes, I won’t be able to gain citizenship for another two years.”

“It is hard to understand why government would impose these rules on people who are already contributing to Australia as permanent residents and have already passed IELTS test at least a couple of times.”

“I would urge political parties to oppose these changes. I am glad Labor and Greens are acting for this cause.”

According to government’s proposed changes to the citizenship legislation, the applicant will need to go through a stricter English language test with residency requirement increased to four years before one can be eligible for Australian citizenship.

A statement from Mr Dutton’s office said the reforms would apply to all new applications received on or after 20th April, 2017.

Labor party has decided to vote against the proposed citizenship law in its current form.

Labor's opposition to the bill means the coalition will have to seek 10 crossbench votes to pass it through the Senate. The Greens have already labelled it xenophobic and unfair. 

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