On 01 July 2007, a number of changes to Australia's immigration program and rules went into effect. The new Australian Citizenship Act commenced last week from Sunday, which now includes a number of changes to immigration law. In addition, new visa categories were introduced and some existing ones have been changed.
The Citizenship Act changes the residence requirement for foreigners before they may apply for Australian citizenship. The amount of time a person must reside in Australia before being eligible for naturalization has been increased.
Specifically, the residence requirement for people who became permanent residents on or after 1 July 2007:
• must have been lawfully resident in Australia for 4 years immediately before applying
• have at least 12 months as a permanent resident, and
• may not have been absent from Australia for more than 12 months
• including no more than a 3 month absence in the 12 months immediately prior to applying
There are a number of other requirements and exceptions that apply, but they are the same ones that were in place before 01 July 2007.
In addition, the previous age limit for Australian citizenship by descent and resumption has been removed. Approval of citizenship may now be denied where a person is a threat to national security, and the provisions for revoking Australian citizenship have been strengthened.
Note that the Australian citizenship test, currently before the Parliament as the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Testing) Bill 2007, is not in effect yet. If and when approved by the Parliament, then it will require new applicants to take and pass a test to obtain approval of their citizenship.
Other changes that came into effect last week include new English language requirements for the Employer Sponsored Temporary Business Visa (commonly known as the 457 visa). Applicants must now have English language skills equivalent to an average band score of 4.5 in accordance with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test. Exemptions exist under certain circumstances.
Criteria and conditions for Bridging Visas are now adjusted.
Registration opened on 01 July for a special visa for World Youth Day, in anticipation of the 80,000 people expected in Sydney in July next year for the 23rd World Youth Day. These multi-entry three-month visas will be free of government charge.
The Maritime Crew visa (MCV) has replaced the Special Purpose visa (SPV), and must be applied for and granted prior to entry in Australia. However, a grace period of six months until 01 January 2008 will be in effect during which the SPV can still be granted to and used by maritime crew.
A number of adjustments have come into effect for regulations governing the Work and Holiday Visa program.
European Union citizens staying in Australia up to three months will now be able to obtain electronic tourist visas and business short stay visas without paying an application charge. For people from eligible countries and who are approved specifically, the subclass 676 visa is now amended to allow non-student visa holders to be granted - if in Australia when they apply - a subclass 676 for the purposes of studying.
Several adjustments are also now applied to criteria for conditions and eligibility for student visas and conduct to retain a student visa.
A number of other measures have become effective that regulate border security and control, along with some two dozen and more relatively minor adjustments to various procedures.