Citizenship is a relatively recent concept for Australia as a nation, having its origins in the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Cwlth). Prior to this, Australians were British subjects. Since the inception of the Act in January 1949, more than three million people born overseas have acquired Australian citizenship. For these people, citizenship is voluntary, expressing a commitment to the laws and principles of Australia, and respect for its land and its people. It confers the opportunity to participate more fully in Australian society, giving the right to vote, to apply for public office, and to hold an Australian passport and, therefore, leave and re-enter Australia freely.
Australian citizenship law and policy have been amended many times since their inception to reflect a more inclusive approach to the acquisition of Australian citizenship, with recent changes in policy towards creating more opportunities for young adults to acquire citizenship (DIMIA, 2004). All migrants who meet set criteria are encouraged to become Australian citizens. Children born in Australia acquire Australian citizenship at birth if at least one parent is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia. Children born overseas may be registered as having Australian citizenship by descent if at least one of their parents is an Australian citizen.
The 2001 Census of Population and Housing indicated that almost three-quarters (74%) of people born overseas who had been resident in Australia for two years or more were Australian citizens. There were high proportions of Australian citizens among people born in Greece (97%). However, this citizenship rate is influenced by the age and period of residence of people from Greece. For Australian residents born in Greece, most (83%) arrived in Australia in 1970 or earlier and three-quarters are aged 50 years and over. The longer overseas-born people reside in Australia, and consequently the older they get, the more likely it is that they have acquired Australian citizenship.
Standardising gives the rates that would be expected if a given overseas-born population had the same profile of age and period of residence in Australia as the total overseas-born population (table 5.60). Based on standardised rates, people born in the Philippines, Vietnam and China were the most likely to become Australian citizens. Unstable or changing political and socio-economic conditions in these countries may result in a greater desire for Australian citizenship than for people born in other countries.
In contrast, people born in the United Kingdom and New Zealand were less likely to become Australian citizens. This may be because 'the shared language, and strongly similar legal, political, and industrial arrangements of Australia and the other Anglo-American countries lead these immigrants to feel less need to make a choice of national identity' (Evans 1988).
5.60 CITIZENSHIP RATES, Overseas-born people resident in Australia for two years or more - 2001
Standardised citizenship rate(b)
|China (excl. SARs & Taiwan Prov.)|
|All overseas born(c)|
|(a) People for whom citizenship was not stated were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.|
(b) The rates of citizenship that would be expected if a given overseas-born population had the same age and period of residence profile as the total overseas-born population.
(c) Excludes people whose birthplace was not stated, inadequately described, not elsewhere classified or at sea.
Source: ABS data available on request, 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
Despite their comparatively low rate of take-up of citizenship, Australian residents born in the United Kingdom and New Zealand were the two largest groups among the 87,000 people granted Australian citizenship in 2003-04 (table 5.61). This is in keeping with the large numbers of United Kingdom and New Zealand-born people resident in Australia. Former British, Irish and New Zealand citizens have been among the largest sources of Australian citizens since the early-1970s, when legislative changes and visa requirements prompted many Commonwealth citizens living in Australia to apply for Australian citizenship. Other residents who were granted Australian citizenship in 2003-04 were likely to have come from Asian countries, such as China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia (together comprising 24% of citizenship grants), and citizens of South Africa (6%), Fiji (2%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2%) and the United States of America (2%). These figures reflect immigration from these countries in recent years, with China, South Africa, India and the Philippines in the top ten birthplace groups of overseas-born people who had arrived in Australia between 1996 and 2001.
5.61 FORMER NATIONALITY, People granted Australian citizenship - 2003-04
|Country of former nationality or citizenship|
|United States of America(b)|
|Serbia and Montenegro|
|Korea, Republic of (South)|
|(a) Includes citizens of Hong Kong and Macau SARs but excludes those of Taiwan.|
(b) Includes American Samoa.
Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, 'Annual Report, 2003-04', last viewed 22/07/05, <http://www.immi.gov.au>.
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