Panic Over Proposed Citizenship Changes (Australia)

Panic over proposed citizenship changes
September 25, 2006 – 7:59AM
The Age (Melbourne)

The Immigration Department has been bombarded with calls after the government proposed changes to Australia's citizenship laws.

Canberra released a discussion paper a week ago proposing to toughen rules by doubling the length of time immigrants must wait to become eligible for citizenship.

Immigrants also would have to demonstrate they understand Australian history, national symbols, culture and the democratic system, as well as English, before being granted citizenship.

Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe said his department's citizenship information line recorded a big spike in calls after a discussion paper on the proposals was released on September 17.

More than 3,000 calls were received the next day, with around 2,000 calls on each of the following two days.

Mr Metcalfe said most callers wanted more information on having to wait longer to be eligible for citizenship.

“Our call centres report strong interest in the government's proposal to change the residence requirement from two to four years,” he said.

“It seems that many people do not realise that the change to four years' lawful residence will only affect those who become permanent residents after the changes come into effect.”

Traffic on the information line was running at about 50 per cent above average, Mr Metcalfe said.

Prime Minister John Howard has said he wants the changes in place well before next year's election.