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Australia wants to speed up citizenship for New Zealanders

Australia has announced plans to make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders living in the country to obtain Australian citizenship.

From 1 July, they can apply for citizenship if they have lived in Australia for at least four years and entered the country after 2001.

They also no longer need to apply for permanent residence first to be eligible for citizenship.

New Zealand has been pushing for reforms since visa rules were tightened in 2001.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement on Saturday, a day before his counterpart from New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, was due to visit.

“We know that many New Zealanders hold special visas to raise families, work and build lives in Australia. I am therefore proud to offer the benefits of citizenship,” Mr Albanese said in a statement.

Up to 350,000 New Zealanders currently living in Australia are expected to be affected.

New Zealander Chris Hipkins, who will visit Brisbane on Sunday, hailed the changes as “the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia in a generation”.

It “also restores the rights New Zealanders had in Australia before it was revoked in 2001”, he said in a statement.

New Zealand has long demanded the changes since tightening visa requirements for nationals living in Australia more than two decades ago.

Special category visas were introduced in 2001 to restrict New Zealanders’ access to certain health and social services.

They must also apply for permanent residency—an often lengthy and expensive process—before citizenship can be granted.

New Zealander Scott Bowley, who lives in Melbourne with his Swedish wife and two children overnight, said he was delighted to hear the news overnight. The changes mean he and his family can access state benefits – such as unemployment benefits – after naturalization.

He said his second child, born in December last year, was also automatically eligible for Australian citizenship.

Nicole Wetrupp, a New Zealander who works at a children’s hospital in Melbourne, said she abandoned her bid to gain permanent residency because her medical position was deemed too niche and the application cost thousands Dollar.

“There was nothing I could do until now,” she told the BBC. The changes mean she can now access extra support when needed, such as housing benefits, and also vote.

“Until now I haven’t been able to vote, I’m passionate about voting – I live here and pay taxes, but I have no say in who runs the country.”

Australian authorities say the changes now give New Zealanders living in Australia equal rights to Australians living in New Zealand.

There are currently about 670,000 New Zealanders living in Australia and about 70,000 Australians living in New Zealand.

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