Yes to living in Australia, but not keen on taking up citizenship

People walk through Sydney's Chinatown on June 21, 2017.
People walk through Sydney's Chinatown on June 21, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

People from countries that forbid dual nationalities, like S'pore, less likely to do so

Australia is a migrant nation. But it turns out not everyone wants Australian citizenship.

Analysis of last year's census figures, which were released earlier this year, revealed that some nationalities are far less likely to take up citizenship or take years to do so.

These include nationals of Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Britain and the United States.

According to the analysis by SBS News, only half of Japanese citizens who have lived in Australia for 40 years have taken up citizenship.

By contrast, migrants from China, Vietnam and Cambodia have tended to take up citizenship far more quickly. The analysis found that people from non-English speaking backgrounds were often more likely to take up citizenship quicker than English speakers.

Analysts said citizens from countries that do not allow dual nationalities - such as Singapore - are less likely to become Australian, while those fleeing economic or political hardship are more likely.

An expert on Australian immigration, Professor Andrew Markus from Monash University, said some members of countries that forbid dual nationality did not view Australian citizenship as a priority and were not necessarily bothered about the inability to vote or hold a passport. In contrast, he said, people fleeing hardship were more likely to "appreciate Australian democracy".

"If people come from a First World country and are thinking about whether to go back to their home country or not - such as global citizens and so on- that will have an impact on whether they take up citizenship," he told The Straits Times.

"The highest uptake is among refugees who really don't have an alternative. They do not have a country to which they can return."

Prof Markus said some economic migrants "get it as a backup in case things go wrong in their country of origin".

More than five million arrivals to Australia have become citizens since 1949. In recent years, the federal government has made it harder to become a citizen, such as introducing English tests and a test about Australian history and society.

The federal government proposed earlier this year to force permanent residents to wait four years before becoming eligible for citizenship - up from one - and introducing a harder English test and an "Australian values" test. However, the proposals are set to be defeated in the Senate, where the ruling coalition does not have a majority.

A Senate committee on Tuesday released a report on the changes, saying new citizens should have a good understanding and use of English, but the proposed new test was too hard and risked adopting a "standard that many current citizens could not reach". It is not yet clear if the federal government will continue to push for the Bill or an amended version.

According to Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 133,126 people from at least 190 countries became citizens last year. Of these, 17 per cent were from India, 16 per cent from the United Kingdom, 6 per cent from the Philippines and 5 per cent from South Africa.

A report by the Federal Government in 2011 found that the absence of dual citizenship arrangements might explain low take-up rates for migrants from Japan and Singapore.

Analysis of the census data by Prof Markus of people who arrived in Australia between 1995 and 2004 found that 90 per cent of those from India had become citizens, while 72 per cent of those from China had. In contrast, about 60 per cent of Singaporeans who arrived during that period had become citizens.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2017, with the headline 'Yes to living in Australia, but not keen on taking up citizenship'. Print Edition | Subscribe