New Zealanders in Australia to be offered streamlined pathway to permanent residence

On Friday last week, the Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection jointly announced a new streamlined pathway for NZ citizens to apply for an Australian permanent visa from 1 July 2017.

A common complaint from New Zealand (NZ) citizens living in Australia is that they are not entitled to the same benefits Australian citizens receive living in New Zealand. This has been an issue for quite some time ever since 26 February 2001, which is an important date as it defines whether a NZ citizen, who were either in Australia on that date or who met residency requirements, is recognised as an eligible NZ citizen. Eligible NZ citizens obtain many privileges over other NZ citizens in Australia including the ability to sponsor relatives for certain permanent visas, typically under the Family visa programme.

New Zealand citizens do hold a special place in Australia’s migration laws. In fact, the particular subclass is even called special. Provided the NZ citizen meets health and character requirements, they should be eligible for a Special Category (subclass 444) visa (SCV), which will entitle them to come to Australia and stay as long as they remain NZ citizens. SCV holders also have the ability for their family members, generally their partners and children who are not NZ citizens, to apply for a five year temporary visa: the NZ Citizen Family Relationship (subclass 461) visa.

On 1 July 2017, an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 SCV visa holders should qualify for an Australian permanent visa under the new proposed pathway. Although no specific laws have been created yet, the following criteria has been disclosed on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s (DIBP’s) website:

  • The pathway will be made available through the Skilled Independent General Skilled Migration stream,
  • SCV holders will have needed to have lived in Australia for the past five years and have earned income at or above the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold for each year of the qualifying period. Currently, this threshold is AUD 53,900, and does not include superannuation. Importantly, this will be evidenced by their notice of tax assessments,
  • There may be limited exemptions to the income test for NZ citizens deemed vulnerable people, and those who have taken maternity/paternity leave, and
  • They meet mandatory health and character requirements.

This announcement may prompt some NZ citizens in arrears to rush to their accountants to lodge their tax returns.

So what are the benefits for being a NZ citizen with an Australian permanent visa? There are at least a couple that come to mind. The first is that they may be eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by conferral, for which one of the requirements is that the applicant held an Australian permanent visa for at least 12 months prior to lodging this application. The second is that they may be able to sponsor family members for Australian permanent visas as well. For instance, the previously discussed NZ Citizen Family Relationship (subclass 461) visa holder may instead be eligible for a Partner (subclass 820/801) visa, which is an application whose final result is an Australian permanent visa.