Immigration

No transition period for changes to citizenship rules, Senate committee hears

Australian citizenship recipients
Australian citizenship recipients and their guests attend a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day in Brisbane, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Source: AAP

A Senate committee has been told there won't be any transitional arrangements for people seeking citizenship from the date of Turnbull government rule changes.

Skilled migrants and students caught up in the Turnbull government's citizenship changes won't get any flexibility when it comes to the new laws, an inquiry has heard.

On April 20 the prime minister announced an overhaul of the citizenship law, proposing to introduce a stand-alone English language test and increasing the waiting time from one year to four years for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship, among other measures.

The changes, if parliament passes the bill, will apply from the announcement date.

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald quizzed immigration department officials in Brisbane on Thursday on whether some of the 50,000 people, such as skilled workers and students, who had applied for citizenship since April 20 could be helped by giving them a transition period.

"A skilled migrant doing all the right things (is) about to apply for citizenship and then the 20th April comes along and throws the best laid plans...asunder," Senator Macdonald said.

Senior department official David Wilden said there would be no "carve out" or transition phase.

"The government was quite clear they wanted it from the date of announcement, for the reason that if we are seeking to make a series of changes, why would you create a window that creates opportunities for people to subvert those changes," Mr Wilden said.

He said as was the case with every piece of legislation "there are people who benefit and people who are disadvantaged".

The department did not do any modelling on the impact of the new laws on foreign students, the committee heard.

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Labor senator Murray Watt said the committee had received a lot of complaints about the April 20 cut-off.

"Our hope is those people who wish to become Australian citizens will still apply (under the new rules)," Mr Wilden said.

The committee heard that out of the 199,151 applications for citizenship over the past financial year, 113,388 came from the skilled visa stream, while 51,549 were under the family stream, 19,860 humanitarian and 14,000 "others".