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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Population >> Population Composition: Australian citizenship

Population Composition: Australian citizenship

In 1991, 60% of overseas born residents were Australian citizens. People from non-English speaking countries were more likely than those from English speaking countries to have become citizens.

The concept of Australian citizenship is less than 50 years old. Prior to the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 (since renamed the Australian Citizenship Act 1948) coming into effect on Australia Day 1949, Australians were simply British subjects. Between that day and 31 December 1995, 2.8 million grants of citizenship had been made.

In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the Act and to the centenary of Federation in 2001, Australians are beginning to focus on what it means to be Australian. In 1994 the Joint Standing Committee on Migration reported on the inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. In the foreword to the report, the Committee stated 'Citizenship is the cornerstone of national identity. It defines an individual's legal relationship with Australia, and signals an individual's membership of the Australian community... citizenship represents an individual's commitment to Australia, including the principles on which Australian society is based.' 1

Most people born in Australia are automatically citizens and most people born overseas have to apply to become citizens1. For this reason, the citizenship rates presented in this review exclude people born in Australia. In 1991, 60% of Australia's 3.7 million overseas born residents reported that they were Australian citizens.


Grants of citizenship

To be granted Australian citizenship an applicant must meet certain criteria under Section 13(1) of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. The applicant must:
  • be a permanent resident of Australia;
  • be 18 years or older (children under 16 may be included in a parent's application);
  • have been a permanent resident of Australia for a period of, or for periods amounting to, not less than one year in the preceding two, and not less than two years in the preceding five;
  • be of good character;
  • possess a basic knowledge of English (unless the applicant is 50 years or older, or has permanent difficulties with hearing, speech or sight, or suffers permanent physical or mental incapacity);
  • have an adequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship (unless the applicant is 60 years or older, or has permanent difficulties with hearing, speech or sight, or suffers permanent physical or mental incapacity);
  • be likely to reside, or continue to reside, in Australia, or maintain a close and continuing association with Australia.

The rights of citizenship

Possession of Australian citizenship whether by birth, adoption, descent or through a grant of citizenship (naturalisation) entitles a person to certain rights not enjoyed by non-citizens, regardless of residency status.

Citizens are eligible to enrol to vote and obliged to vote in elections and referendums. Only citizens can be elected to public office. Citizens have the right to enter, to stay and to leave Australia (unless there is court order preventing departure because of criminal, bankruptcy or family law proceedings). Citizens are entitled to seek diplomatic protection from Australian embassies and consulates overseas. Only citizens are eligible to serve on juries, to serve in the defence forces, or to gain permanent employment in the Australian Public Service.

Citizenship rates

The citizenship rate is the number of overseas born residents in a group who reported that they were Australian citizens divided by the total number of overseas born residents in that group who reported their citizenship. Because different groups of overseas born residents have different age and period of residence (which impact on their eligibility for a grant of citizenship), standardised citizenship rates which take account of these differences are also presented.


Age and year of arrival
Citizenship rates increase with age, particularly among those under the age of 50, and with period of residence, particularly among those who arrived before 1985. In 1991, 70% of people aged 50 or more were citizens compared to 48% of those aged 18-29 and 55% of those aged 30-39. Similarly, 70% of people who had arrived before 1985 were citizens compared to 50% of those who had arrived in 1986-87 and 23% of those who had arrived in 1988-89.

Most settlers are aged 15-34 on arrival (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Net overseas migration) and therefore age and year of arrival are strongly related. In 1993, 54% of settler arrivals were aged 15-34 and their median age was 28. In 1991, the median age of people who had arrived before 1971 was 53 compared to 27 for those who had arrived in 1990-91. Among people aged 50 and over who had arrived before 1985, the citizenship rate was 73%.

CITIZENSHIP RATES BY AGE, 1991


Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)

CITIZENSHIP RATES BY YEAR OF ARRIVAL, 1991


Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)


Ability to speak English
Citizenship rates also vary by ability to speak English because of the language criterion attached to a grant of citizenship. Among overseas born people who spoke a language other than English at home citizenship rates increased as their ability to speak English increased, from 48% of people who did not speak English at all to 72% of those who spoke English very well. Among overseas born people who only spoke English at home, and therefore may be assumed to speak English fluently, the citizenship rate was 54%, well below the average. This reflects the generally low citizenship rates of people born in the main English speaking countries.

CITIZENSHIP RATES BY PROFICIENCY IN ENGLISH, 1991


Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)


Eligibility for grant of citizenship
While the census does not seek direct information on eligibility for a grant of citizenship, eligibility against the age, residency and language criteria can be approximated. Taking these into account increases the citizenship rate. Among those who spoke at least some English (language criterion), the citizenship rate was 61%. Among those aged 18 or more (age criterion), the citizenship rate was 62%. Among those who had arrived before 1988 (residency criterion) the citizenship rate was 69%. When all three criteria were taken together, the citizenship rate was 69%.

Overall, the male citizenship rate was marginally higher than the female rate (61% compared to 60%). This was true in all cases except for those who did not speak English. For this group, the female citizenship rate was much higher than the male rate. This is related to the relatively large numbers of women in older age groups, which have higher citizenship rates than younger ones.

CITIZENSHIP RATES, 1991

Males
Females
Persons
Characteristics
%
%
%

Aged 18 and over
62.3
61.0
61.7
Aged 0-17
47.5
47.4
47.4
Arrived before 1988
69.2
68.4
68.8
Arrived in 1988-91
13.6
13.6
13.6
Speaks English
61.2
60.0
60.6
Does not speak English
43.8
50.6
48.3
Total
60.9
59.8
60.3

Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)


Country of birth - main English speaking countries
With the exception of people born in South Africa, the citizenship rates of people born in the main English speaking countries were very low. Overall, in 1991, 46% of people born in the main English speaking countries were citizens. The citizenship rates for people born in the UK, Ireland or Canada were similar to this. People born in New Zealand or USA had very low citizenship rates, 24% and 27% respectively, while for people born in South Africa, the citizenship rate was very high at 73%.

When the citizenship rates were standardised for age and year of arrival, the rates for people born in the UK declined while those for people born in the other countries increased. This reflects the different settlement patterns of the two groups. UK has been a major source of migrants for the past two hundred years while the other countries have only recently become significant sources of settlers (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Birthplaces of Australia's settlers). The most common explanation advanced for the generally low citizenship rates of people with an English speaking background is that '...the shared language, and strongly similar legal, political, and industrial relations arrangements of Australia and the other Anglo-American countries lead these immigrants to feel less need to make a choice of national identity.'2

CITIZENSHIP RATES OF PEOPLE BORN IN MAIN ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRIES, 1991

Persons
Citizenship rate
Standardised citizenship rate(a)
Arrived before 1981
Country of birth
'000
%
%
%

United Kingdom
1,122.4
50.4
46.5
81.0
    England
909.0
51.4
47.6
80.9
    Scotland
156.7
45.8
40.8
82.6
    Wales
28.0
48.6
45.3
77.3
    Northern Ireland
25.0
45.7
41.9
80.7
    Other United Kingdom
3.8
46.1
43.0
73.9
New Zealand
276.1
23.9
34.4
43.9
Republic of Ireland
52.5
45.3
45.8
65.5
United States of America
50.6
26.8
33.3
44.7
Republic of South Africa
49.4
73.3
76.3
44.5
Canada
24.2
47.0
49.8
54.5
Total
1,575.0
45.5
44.0
71.3

(a) Standardised to the age and year of arrival distribution of all overseas born residents.

Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)


Country of birth - non-English speaking countries
The citizenship rate for people born in non-English speaking countries was 71% but there was considerable variation between countries. Of the top ten non-English speaking countries of birth, the citizenship rates varied from 45% for the Malaysian born to 94% for the Greek born. When standardised for age and year of arrival these rates changed to 65% and 81% respectively. Similarly, all of the standardised citizenship rates, except that for Lebanon, were quite different from the unstandardised rates. For people born in Italy, Germany or the Netherlands, the standardised rates were considerably lower than the unstandardised rates suggesting that their high citizenship rates are largely attributable to the age and year of arrival characteristics of these groups. The small proportions of recent arrivals from these countries have very low citizenship rates. In contrast, for people born in China, the Philippines and Malaysia, the standardised citizenship rates were considerably higher than the unstandardised rates. While their relatively recent arrival profiles contribute to their low citizenship rates they are highly likely to be granted citizenship as their period of residence in Australia increases. The slightly lower standardised rate for the Malaysian born is partly due to the high proportion of this group who are studying in Australia, and therefore qualify as residents, but who are unlikely to become citizens (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Overseas students in higher education).

CITIZENSHIP RATES OF PEOPLE BORN IN NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRIES, 1991

Persons
Citizenship rate
Standardised citizenship rate(a)
Arrived before 1981
Country of birth
'000
%
%
%

Italy
254.8
76.9
54.5
97.1
Former Yugoslavia
161.1
89.2
80.0
87.1
Greece
136.3
93.9
81.3
95.3
Viet Nam
122.3
71.4
78.0
27.3
Germany
115.0
73.2
58.6
84.3
Netherlands
95.8
75.3
55.8
90.7
China
78.8
49.0
75.8
28.9
Philippines
73.7
67.3
81.6
18.4
Malaysia
72.6
44.7
65.5
35.0
Lebanon
69.0
87.9
87.2
66.7
Total
2,180.3
71.2
72.5
65.1

(a) Standardised to the age and year of arrival distribution of all overseas born residents.

Source: Census of Population and Housing (unpublished data)


Grants of Australian citizenship
The annual number of grants of citizenship varies, reflecting both the number of settler arrivals two years previously and government initiatives to encourage citizenship applications. The peak in 1985-86 reflects the reduction in the eligibility period from three years to two in November 1984 while the high figures in the early 1990s resulted partly from interest generated by the Australian Bicentennial in 1988 and the Year of Citizenship in 1988-89.

Of citizenship grants made since 1970, about one-third have been to former citizens of UK and Ireland. The other major countries of former citizenship have varied reflecting the changing mix of source countries of immigration (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Birthplaces of Australia's settlers). The UK and Ireland have also consistently been the largest source of new Australian citizens since the early 1970s. However, this was not always the case. In 1949-65, only 4% of citizenship grants were made to former citizens of UK and Ireland. Former Italian citizens made up 21% of new citizens in that period, followed by former citizens of the Netherlands (13%), USSR and Baltic States and Poland (both 12%). In the late 1960s former citizens of UK and Ireland increased their take-up of Australian citizenship and represented 10% of grants of citizenship in 1965-70, third after former Italian citizens (21%) and former Greek citizens (13%).

GRANTS OF AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP



(a) Lagged by two years.

Source: Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research Australian Immigration Consolidated Statistics; Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia (3404.0)

GRANTS OF AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP BY COUNTRY OF FORMER CITIZENSHIP(a)

Country
1970-75
Country
1980-85
Country
1990-95
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%



UK & Ireland
80.8
29.4
UK & Ireland
142.9
34.5
UK & Ireland
200.8
33.8
Greece
40.7
14.8
Former Yugoslavia
31.6
7.6
Viet Nam
44.3
7.5
Italy
24.0
8.7
Viet Nam
29.7
7.2
New Zealand
40.9
6.9
Former Yugoslavia
20.6
7.5
Italy
21.5
5.2
Philippines
36.1
6.1
Lebanon
11.3
4.1
Greece
15.6
3.8
China
24.9
4.2
India
11.3
4.1
Lebanon
15.6
3.8
Former Yugoslavia
17.8
3.0
All countries
274.6
100.0
All countries
413.8
100.0
All countries
593.7
100.0

(a) Countries specified represent the top six in terms of grants of citizenship for each period.

Source: Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research Australian Immigration Consolidated Statistics and Immigration Update


Endnotes
1 Joint Standing Committee on Migration (1994), Australians All - Enhancing Australian Citizenship, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Evans, M. (1988), Choosing to be a citizen: the time-path of citizenship in Australia, International Migration Review, vol. 22, no. 2.



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