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Relief for migrants as citizenship bill seems doomed

Nick Xenophon Source: AAP

Nick Xenophon has reiterated his opposition to the citizenship legislation and asked the government to go back to the drawing board.

Under the current citizenship law, Shruti Vaidya would have become eligible to apply for her Australian citizenship in August, just over a hundred days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an overhaul of the citizenship law in April this year.

Currently working with a big bank in Sydney, Ms Vaidya moved to Australia four years ago as a student to study at the University of Technology Sydney and got her permanent residency last years.

She is among those who made a submission to the Senate committee looking into the government’s citizenship legislation that proposes to increase the waiting time for migrants, such as Ms Vaidya to four years from one year before they can apply for citizenship.

She and thousands of other migrants from across Australia have petitioned politicians to defeat the citizenship changes that besides making them wait longer for citizenship, seeks them to demonstrate higher English language proficiency and gives the immigration minister powers to rule the AAT in matters of citizenship.

“We pretty much knew that the bill will pass the lower house and it was more of a senate game. The biggest block of independent senators there is of the NXT, so our main focus was NXT to call for them to not vote for the bill,” Ms Vaidya says.  

Shruti Vaidya

The legislation is coming up for discussion in the Senate on Tuesday. But Ms Vaidya is relieved after Nick Xenophon reiterated his party’s stand of not backing the government’s bill.

“I am so grateful to all the senators who have opposed the bill and I am glad that he [Nick Xenophon] has come out now and said they are sticking to the statement they made in the Senate in September,” Ms Vaidya tells SBS Punjabi.

The citizenship bill is coming in the Senate for a debate on Tuesday after the Greens forced a deadline of 18 October for it to be debated, failing which it would be struck off the notice board.

An Australian citizenship

With the Labor and Greens already having made their opposition to the changes clear, the government was hoping to bring the Nick Xenophon Team to support the legislation.

While initially, his party had expressed reservations about increasing the waiting time for permanent migrants from one year to four years, the party said in September it couldn’t support the bill in its current form. NXT Senator Stirling Griff at that time said the government would have to look at many other aspects of the bill.

However, NXT leader Nick Xenophon said on Monday the government would have to scrap the bill and start again.

“Our position hasn’t changed," he said. “We can’t support it in its current form. The bill needs to be redrawn."

“We are willing to sit down with the government and work with them, but this legislation has caused a lot of anxiety among ethnic communities around the country, and while I am sure that wasn’t what was intended, it is not something we can support,” The Guardian quoted Nick Xenophon as saying.

A group of migrants affected by the government’s proposed citizenship changes is now calling on immigration minister Peter Dutton to let the Immigration Department process citizenship applications under the current law.

“We believe that there has been a significant delay in processing the applications…. aspects of the bill which is increased waiting time is being applied to the applications made post the announcement despite the bill not being passed in both houses,” says Ms Vaidya.

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