Australia’s move to welcome more New Zealanders as citizens… not so generous

A new pathway providing New Zealanders[1] who hold Special Category Visas (SCV) an opportunity to obtain Australian citizenship has been broadly welcomed.This pathway will make it much easier for New Zealanders to become an Australian permanent resident, as it has lowered the threshold requirements for grant of a visa in the Skilled Independent category. 12 months after obtaining the permanent residence visa, the holder would be eligible for Australian citizenship.[2] The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) announcement[ 3] sells the new pathway as a privileged advantage, and an acknowledgment of Australia’s close bilateral relationship with New Zealand. This however doesn’t tell the full story.

New Zealanders living and working in Australia benefit the economy. Providing a flexible workforce for Australia to tap into. Filling both skilled and unskilled jobs. This workforce comes without incurring much of the associated education and training costs, and provides workers who contribute directly to Australia through their labour and income tax.

Instead of acknowledging this contribution, government rhetoric has largely focused on the idea that New Zealanders should not be ‘welfare bludgers’. The Australian Government has been clear that New Zealanders living in Australia should be “lifters not leaners”[4] and has created laws [5] to ensure this. Certainly since February 2001, the ‘non-protected SCV holder’[6] has paid income tax despite their continued inability to access the majority of social security payments. Since 2014 SVC holders have also paid a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) levy, without being eligible to receive cover from the NDIS.

This new pathway follows the same vein. It ensures the Australian economy continues to benefit from the contribution of New Zealanders, with very little risk. By design it categorises New Zealanders living in Australia as either lifters or leaners. It will filter out people who are higher risk of accessing welfare benefits in Australia. Only lifters need apply.

Those that will be excluded are mainly lower income earners. Applicants will need to prove income over a five year period that is at least equal to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) used for the subclass 457 visa. This is currently set at $53,900.

People with a disability will also be excluded if their health care requirements are considered a burden on Australian resources.Significant application charges will also apply to applicants using this pathway. A family with two parents and three children under 18 years old can expect to pay approximately $8,100 in visa application charges.

This announcement comes at a time when tension between the two countries (about how New Zealanders living in Australia are treated) has hit a peak. [7] The New Zealand Government has long been critical of perceived inequitable treatment of New Zealanders. However when the Australia Government started to detain and remove New Zealanders in record numbers during 2015 on character grounds, it seemed to rub salt into the wound.

Interestingly New Zealand’s economic performance is currently outstripping Australia’s. Statistics have shown that more people moved from Australia to New Zealand in 2015.[8] It is the first time since 1991 that New Zealand has had a net increase in migration from Australia.

The DIBP predict approximately 60,000 to 70,000 of the 140,000 New Zealanders on SCV visas in Australia will qualify under this new pathway. It remains to be seen how many take up the offer.

Natalie Dawson is an academic in the Migration Law Program at ANU College of Law

[1] Only New Zealand Special Category visa (SCV) holders who arrived after 26 February 2001 and on or before, the date of the announcement, 19 February 2016 will be eligible.
[2] Upon satisfying s22(1)(c) of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) amongst other requirements
[3] http://www.border.gov.au/Visasupport/Pages/an-additional-pathway.aspx
[4] On 7 February 2014 in a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key then Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott when questioned about the lack of welfare for New Zealanders living long-term in Australia, said he expected New Zealanders to be “lifters, not leaners”  (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/tony-abbott-wont-budge-on-benefits-restrictions-to-new-zealand-migrants)
[5] Section 7 of the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) was amended with effect from 26 February 2001 to include a ‘Protected SCV holder’ in its definition of an ‘Australian resident’. The ‘Non-Protected SCV holder is excluded from this definition and therefore is ineligible for most social security payments’
[6] The vast majority of New Zealanders who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001 areNonprotected SCV holders’, making them ineligible for Social Security payments.
[7]http://www.msn.com/en-au/news/other/scott-morrison-defends-kiwi-detentions/ar-AAfuvPF
[8] http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/Migration/international-travel-and-migration-info-releases.aspx
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