Changes in citizenship rules for distinguished applicants

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Written by Senior Immigration Lawyer, Pamela Pau

Last month, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced changes to the special residence concession which will streamline the pathway to citizenship for distinguished applicants. Wallabies star Quade Cooper will be one of the first to benefit from these new rules.

Cooper was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when he was 13. He had met eligibility requirements to play as a Wallaby because under the World Rugby rules, players can represent a country if they have resided in that country for at least 36 months prior to the time of playing.

At the time Minister Hawke had made the announcement, Cooper had played 71 tests for Wallabies. However, his applications for Australian citizenship had been refused 4 times. The general residence requirement for citizenship is that individuals must have been:

  • Residing in Australia on a valid visa for the past 4 years;
  • A Permanent Resident or eligible NZ citizen for the past 12 months;
  • Absent from Australia for no more than 12 months in the past 4 years, including no more than 90 days in the past 12 months before applying.

It is understood that Cooper’s touring schedule for the Wallabies and time spent playing abroad had prevented him from meeting general residency requirements for citizenship.

There are also special residence requirements for citizenship but Cooper’s situation did not fall within the existing categories listed in the relevant legislative instrument and accordingly, his citizenship application was refused in July 2021.

Under the legislative instrument, there was provision for individuals who were Distinguished Talent to access special residence requirements. However, the provision was confined to those who were writers, or were engaged in the visual or performing arts, and who currently held, or previously held a Distinguished Talent Visa.

After representations were made by Senator Kristina Keneally and MP Jason Falinski, combined with intense public pressure and continued media coverage on the issue, the Australian Government announced changes which will enable individuals including Quade Cooper and ACDC’s Angus Young (who was born in Scotland) to qualify for Australian citizenship.

Minister Hawke has announced that the special residence requirement will be expanded so that it also applies to past, present and future distinguished talent stream visa holders and to athletes in the Australian Commonwealth Games team.

He noted that distinguished talent often have unique work and travel demands and stated that ‘exceptional people must not be prevented from becoming Australians because of the unique demands of the very work they do that makes them exceptional’.

Cooper was very grateful for the support he had received. He said to The Guardian ‘I have to give my thanks to Kristina Keneally and her office for going into bat for me and the Australian public, who put a lot of pressure, and the media, on the government to take a look at not only my case [but others in a similar position]…It’s not over the line, but great to see the rule has been amended to make it a little easier for us. There would be countless others who’ve seen the news today and seen that little glimmer of hope.’

If you wish to explore Australian citizenship and to have your citizenship eligibility assessed under the special residence requirements, or another citizenship category such as the general residence requirements or the Ministerial Discretions, please contact us at [email protected].

Disclaimer: Please note the information contained in this article is current as of 7 October 2021 and is subject to change. The information contained in this article is of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. Individuals should not act on the basis of the information contained in this article without first seeking formal immigration law advice.

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