Last updated 23 January 2017

As provided in s 11A of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) (Australian Citizenship Act), the most common way a person becomes an Australian citizen is by being born in Australia and by having a parent who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident at the time of their birth.

There are other, less common, ways of acquiring automatic Australian citizenship under pt 2 div 1 of the Australian Citizenship Act:

  • citizenship by being born in Australia and by being a resident in Australia for the next 10 years (s 12)
  • citizenship by adoption (s 13)
  • citizenship for abandoned children (s 14)
  • citizenship by incorporation of territory (s 15).

Citizenship by descent

In certain circumstances a person born outside Australia may apply for citizenship through their parents’ status as Australian citizens. At the time of the birth at least one of the parents must be an Australian citizen. To obtain citizenship by descent a person must make an application to become an Australian citizen. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection can approve or refuse the application.

Citizenship by conferral

Non-citizen children born outside Australia and adopted outside Australia by one or more Australian citizen parents may apply for a grant of citizenship in accordance with the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (s 19B Australian Citizenship Act).

Citizens of other countries who are settled permanently in Australia may apply for and receive Australian citizenship by the process of grant. To be granted citizenship, an applicant has to satisfy a number of statutory requirements (ss 19G–23A Australian Citizenship Act). They should:

  • be a permanent resident
  • be 18 years or over
  • understand the nature of the application
  • generally have been lawfully present in Australia for at least four years including at least 12 months as a permanent resident. Absences of up to 12 months are allowed during the four years, including no more than three months absence during the 12 months immediately before applying. However, if a person was born in Australia or is a former Australian citizen, they need only be present in Australia as a permanent resident for the 12 months immediately before applying (use the residence calculator for the purpose of citizenship applications)
  • be of good character
  • possess a basic knowledge of the English language
  • have an adequate knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship and, in some circumstances, pass a test (practice citizenship tests are available)
  • if granted Australian citizenship, be likely to live or continue to live in Australia or to maintain a close and continuing association with Australia.

Requirements 3, 6 and 7 are taken to be satisfied where a person successfully completes the citizenship test. Applicants under the age of 18 years or aged 60 years and over, as well as those with a permanent physical or mental incapacity, permanent or substantial loss of hearing, speech or sight, or those who are stateless, do not need to satisfy these requirements.

Exemptions to residence requirements

The above requirements have to be met by most applicants. However, in certain circumstances specific requirements do not have to be satisfied, and/or there is a discretion for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to grant citizenship even where requirements are not satisfied. Hardship and service in the armed forces of Australia are two of the factors which may impact on the residence requirements.

Spouses, widows/widowers or interdependent (same-sex) partners of Australian citizens who are permanent residents, can have periods of time spent overseas as a permanent resident counted towards the required periods of lawful residence in Australia, if the minister is satisfied that the person had a close and continuing association with Australia during those periods (ss 22(9), 22(11) Australian Citizenship Act).

Residence requirements will not be met if time has been spent in prison or in a psychiatric institution unless the minister determines this would be unreasonable (ss 22(1C), 22(5A) Australian Citizenship Act).

Citizenship pledge

A pledge of commitment as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia must be made by virtually all applicants aged 16 years or over. It must be made to the minister or a person authorised by the minister (s 27, sch 1 Australian Citizenship Act).

How to apply for citizenship

Citizenship application forms may be obtained from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). The DIBP also publishes a lot of information about the citizenship application process and the documentation needed.

Citizenship rights

People acquiring Australian citizenship are entitled to the same rights as those born in Australia. These include the right to:

  • apply for appointment to any public office or to stand for election as a member of parliament (although holding joint nationality can create serious predicaments in the federal parliament)
  • vote at state and Commonwealth elections
  • apply for an Australian passport and to leave and re-enter Australia without needing an authority to return.