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New Zealanders in Australia – Permanent Residency and Australian Citizenship

New Zealanders in Australia – Permanent Residency and Australian Citizenship

As a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, you may have been wondering about your Australian residency status for quite some time. The story of New Zealanders in Australia is unfortunately not a simple one.

Your options as a New Zealand citizen in Australia will depend on when you arrived in Australia. This can be broken into three large groups:

  • exempt non-citizen
  • protected Special Category Visa (‘SCV’) holder
  • a non-protected SCV holder

Throughout this article, I will provide a general overview of what these groups are and the PR and citizenship avenues available to New Zealand citizens in Australia.


Exempt non-citizen

The first group we will consider is the ‘exempt non-citizen’ group. Those who arrived in Australia before 1 September 1994 are considered exempt non-citizens. In this case, you are eligible to apply for a Resident Return Visa (RRV) which, if granted, will reinstate your permanent residency status in Australia.

Once your RRV is granted, you will need to wait for 12 months before you can apply for Australian citizenship. You will also need to satisfy the remaining criteria for citizenship including the general residence requirements.

To satisfy the RRV criteria as an exempt non-citizen, you will need to demonstrate compelling reasons for absence and substantial ties of benefit to Australia. Therefore, your eligibility for RRV depends on your unique circumstances.

If you are unable to satisfy the compelling reasons and substantial ties requirements as an exempt non-citizen, but you are also a protected special category visa holder, you may still be able to apply for Australian citizenship without the need to first apply for a RRV visa.


Protected Special Category Visa (‘SCV’) Holder

Accordingly, if you are a protected special category visa holder (also known as eligible New Zealand citizen), you can apply for citizenship directly. In most cases, this is the most straightforward and smartest way to obtain Australian citizenship.

A protected SCV holder is a person who:

  • was in Australia on 26 February 2001 or
  • was in Australia as an SCV holder for a period of, or periods totaling, 12 months during the period 2 years immediately before 26 February 2001 or
  • commenced or recommenced residing in Australia within 3 months from 26 February 2001 or
  • was residing in Australia on 26 February 2001, but was temporarily absent

If you identify yourself as being a protected SCV holder, you will need to ensure that you can actually demonstrate at least one of the above criteria when you apply for citizenship.


Non-protected Special Category Visa Holder

In all other cases you are a non-protected SCV holder. In this instance, you will need to obtain permanent residency first before you can apply for Australian citizenship.

For those who belong to this group, it is wise to break them into two sub-categories as below.

  • Those arrived on or before 19 February 2016

One benefit for those who arrived on or before 19 February 2016 is that they can consider applying for the Skilled Independent (subclass 189) NZ stream. This is a streamlined visa exclusively available for those with a NZ passport who have demonstrated commitment and contribution to Australia.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility requirements for this visa are that:

  1. the main applicant has usually resided in Australia for a continuous period of at least 5 years immediately before applying;
  2. the continuous period of usual residence in Australia started on or before 19 February 2016;
  3. the main applicant provides copies of notices of assessment of the applicant’s income tax liability in relation to the 4 most recently completed income years before the date of the application (during the period of 5 years immediately before that date)
    • *if you applied on or after 1 July 2021, this is 3 completed financial years in the 5 years immediately before you apply and one of these years must be your most recently completed financial year.
  4. for each of the 4 completed years, the main applicant’s taxable income was at least $53,990 (unless exempt) per annum

Partners/spouses and children may also apply together. All applicants will need to meet health and character requirements.

  • Those arrived after 19 February 2016

If you fall under this sub-category, you will sadly have to go through the general permanent residency stream like everyone else.

Generally speaking, you may consider some of following permanent residency options:

  • Partner migration
  • General skilled migration
  • Employer sponsored migration
  • Business or Investor migration

While this is a more convoluted pathway to obtain permanent residency, there are still benefits of being a NZ citizen when it comes to these options. In some cases, you may be able to gain exemptions and/or concessions to satisfy the specific visa requirements which are only available because you are a NZ citizen.

Identifying these concessions/exemptions require thorough assessment of your unique circumstances so it is best to speak to an experienced professional to assist you.


Get Help

Becoming an Australian citizen is not as simple as merely identifying whether you are an exempt non-citizen, protected SCV holder or non-protected SCV holder. This is just the beginning of the process.

Depending on your personal and family circumstances, your best option may be different to what you may have thought in the first place.

Your immigration lawyer will be able to advise you on your best course of action that is both cost effective, time saving and within consideration of your dependent family members given your unique situation.

Our director, Jay Son, has assisted many New Zealand citizens with their permanent residency and Australian citizenship options and is able to guide you through.

If you would like to talk to us about your options as a NZ citizen, please feel free to contact us by email at or phone (07) 3063 7585.


Disclaimer: this article does not provide legal advice or form a lawyer-client relationship. If you wish to seek immigration assistance given your unique circumstances, please consult with a registered migration agent, immigration lawyer or the Department of Home Affairs.

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