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The BulletinApril 24, 2023

Australia rolls out the welcome mat for NZ workers


News that citizenship will become easier for Kiwis in Australia has been greeted with jubilation – and more than a little apprehension, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

A huge moment for New Zealanders who call Australia home

From this side of the Tasman, it can sometimes be hard to see why citizenship is so important to New Zealanders living in Australia. After all, they can still live and work across the ditch for the rest of their lives, all while accessing public healthcare and education. Dig a little deeper and the disadvantages become clear: New Zealanders without citizenship can’t vote in elections, and can’t access the National Disability Insurance Scheme, nor social security benefits, nor, often, student loans. As Oz Kiwi Association chair Joanne Cox puts it, “Everything’s fine until it goes bad, and then it’s too late.” While citizenship was available to Kiwis, it’s historically been a long, complicated and extremely expensive process. But now Australia is introducing a streamlined path to citizenship for New Zealanders, who will become eligible after just four years in the country. It’s life-changing news for the 670,000 Kiwis in Australia, and especially for the large contingent who’ve already achieved the residency requirement and can apply for citizenship from July 1, when the new rules come into effect.

In the midst of a skills shortage, ‘a frisson of unease’

On this side of the Tasman, the news was greeted with celebration – and some alarm. New Zealand is already contending with competition from Australia’s higher wages, and now the promise of citizenship is making the Lucky Country look more appealing than ever. While prime minister Chris Hipkins says he’s “absolutely confident” that most New Zealanders back home “want to continue to stay with the home of the All Blacks, the true home of the pavlova and the lamington”, others warn it could spell bad news for the NZ economy. Writes Tracy Watkins in Stuff, “while there was plenty of talk of mateship and the Anzac spirit over the announcement, there should be more than a frisson of unease in New Zealand at the timing of a deal that could hollow out an already severely stretched workforce.”

It’s particularly concerning for healthcare, which is losing thousands of workers to Australia. “I’m very, very worried. I’m glad for the people in Australia, but the government in this country needs to step up to the plate,” Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels tells the Herald. Meanwhile those who’ve already made the move say it confirms their original decision to go. “My only regret is that we couldn’t have all this back home, that all Kiwis can’t experience what we have here,” says Sarah Arnold, now living in Perth. The question inherent in her comment – Why not? – is now even more pressing.

Albanese to the rescue

Saturday’s announcement is also good news for those affected by the 501 deportation policy, which has a disproportionate and often brutal impact on New Zealanders in Australia. With citizenship, they’ll no longer be at risk of deportation – a fact not lost on that country’s conservative press. “Kiwi crims’ free pass” blared the Daily Telegraph’s front page on Friday, highlighting the big drop in deportations since the rules were changed last year to factor in how long somebody had lived in Australia and their connections to the country. That change and this new one were spearheaded by prime minister Anthony Albanese, who has a far greater affinity with our own Labour-led government than his predecessors. He’s also continuing to ride high in the polls. “Making a concession on Australia’s strict border and immigration policy was previously unimaginable, and he may be the only leader in a long time to have had the political capital to do so,” observes the Herald.

All for one low, low price

The new citizenship pathway isn’t just quicker than before – it’s also a lot cheaper. The application fee will be just A$490 (NZ$534), compared to a total of over A$4000 right now. Another instructive comparison is the cost of getting citizenship in the UK, which has risen exponentially since I did it myself back in 2006. For those, like me, who arrived on a UK Ancestry Visa, it now costs £2,404 (NZ$4868) to apply for permanent resident status – which to be fair, isn’t an issue for New Zealanders moving to Australia – and another £1,330 (NZ$2694) to apply for citizenship. A total of $7562, not counting the cost of the original visa. The cost of applying for citizenship in New Zealand is $470.20.

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