Fast-track citizenship changes pass parliament

Elite athletes will be able to jump to the front of the Australian citizenship queue under new laws passed by parliament today.  

Elite athletes will be able to jump to the front of the Australian citizenship queue under new laws passed by parliament today.

The laws reduce residency requirements for applicants who engage in special activities of benefit to Australia including some professionals and elite sportspeople.

Currently, a person has to be in Australia for four years before they can apply for citizenship.

During that time they can only be away from the country for a maximum of 12 months.

Under the changes, people such as elite athletes who want to compete in international sporting events will only have to call Australia home for two years before making an application.

They will be required to live in Australia for only six months during that time.

Professionals with frequent overseas travel commitments, such as pilots and offshore oil-rig workers, will also be given special treatment under the changes.

They will have to be an Australian resident for four years to apply, but will only have to reside in the country for 16 months during that period.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has said the current rules excluded "a cohort" of permanent residents who were 100 per cent committed to Australia.

"Elite athletes, tennis players and (some) professionals ... often don't meet the residency requirements," he told parliament during debate on the bill.

They were required to travel extensively outside Australia as part of their employment.

"We don't believe that the general residency requirement applied to this group is fair and it is an artificial barrier that ought to be fixed."

Opposition slams changes

But the opposition claims the government has only cheapened what is means to be Australian with Liberal MP Stuard Robert saying they're selling Australian citizenship so we can win medals.

Immigration and citizenship spokeswoman Sharman Stone says she's sure Tatiana Borodulina is a wonderful person and there's no question about how fast she can skate.

But she says rushing through amendments to ensure she can become an Australian citizen amounts to a contempt of the citizenship system.

Source AAP, SBS

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