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Australian citizenship and permanent residence for New Zealanders: A Quick Guide

By 29 April, 2020August 14th, 2023No Comments8 min read

australian citizenship for new zealanders

New Zealanders who enter Australia on a New Zealand passport are granted a Special Category (Subclass 444) visa (SCV) upon arrival. This visa enables New Zealander to remain in Australia indefinitely, work without restriction, and study. New Zealanders in Australia enjoy access to many benefits which are not available to citizens of other countries, such as eligibility for Medicare, or being considered a domestic student for fee purposes.

However, even though New Zealanders can remain in Australia without any time limit, the SCV is nonetheless classified as a “temporary” visa. This means that there are certain privileges which are not available, such as the ability to:

  • Hold an Australian passport;
  • Vote, or run for political office;
  • Work for the federal government;
  • Serve in the army;
  • Access HECS-HELP;
  • Access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); and
  • Sponsor family members for permanent residence.

This article outlines the pathways through which New Zealanders can obtain Australian permanent residence and citizenship, enabling them to cement their ties to the country and gain a true sense of belonging through access to all the rights and privileges of being Australian.

What is the status of New Zealanders in Australia?

The status of New Zealanders in Australia has undergone many changes over the last few decades. Currently, all SCV holders are eligible to apply for citizenship upon meeting residence (and certain other) requirements.

However, some New Zealanders whose travel histories to Australia date back to the 1990s and early 2000s, may be entitled to certain additional benefits (akin to permanent residence) which are not available to more recent arrivals. Eligible individuals may wish to take advantage of these special rights, thus bypassing the duration and complexity of applying for citizenship.

New Zealanders in Australia who hold an SCV generally fall under three categories, which we designate here as “cohorts”:

  1. First cohort: Early arrivals
  2. Second cohort: Eligible New Zealand Citizens (ENZC)
  3. Current cohort: All others

This table provides an overview of each cohort:

First cohort
Second cohort
Current cohort
Individuals in this category
You were present in Australia as a New Zealand citizen, at any time prior to 1 September 1994 You were present in Australia as a New Zealand citizen on 26 February 2001, or for at least one year in the preceding two, or are otherwise a “Protected SCV Holder” under the Social Security Act 1991 You are a New Zealander in Australia, and do not fall into the first or second cohorts (mainly individuals who arrived after February 2001)
Immigration status
SCV and former permanent resident “Protected” SCV SCV
Option for obtaining permanent residence
Apply for a Resident Return Visa No need – Eligible NZ citizens already possess the entitlements of permanent residents

New Zealanders in this category would need to apply for a permanent visa and fulfil the same criteria as nationals from other countries (although some concessions are available for the Employer Nomination Scheme).

Alternatively, it may be easier to apply directly for Australian citizenship.

Eligible upon meeting general requirements (with or without holding permanent residence)

The above cohorts are addressed in more detail below.

First cohort: those who arrived in Australia prior to 1 September 1994

Any New Zealander who has been present in Australia before 1 September 1994, for any length of time, is eligible to apply for a Resident Return Visa (RRV). Upon being granted an RRV, the individual is a permanent resident. To apply for an RRV through this route, the applicant needs to demonstrate that they possess “substantial ties” of benefit to Australia.

The processing time for an RRV is significantly shorter than the processing time for a citizenship application. Eligible individuals may be interested in applying for an RRV instead of citizenship, to access certain benefits without the waiting period.

Second cohort: Those who arrived after 1 September 1994 and up to 26 February 2001

In the 1990s and early 2000s, New Zealanders enjoyed a status akin to permanent residence. When this was discontinued, New Zealanders already residing in Australia and benefiting from such arrangements were able to maintain their status as “eligible New Zealand citizens.” An ENZC is defined as an SCV holder who fulfils at least one of the below criteria:

  • The person was present in Australia, as an SCV holder on 26 February 2001;
  • The person was not present in Australia on 26 February 2001, but had been present in Australia for periods totalling at least 12 months in the 2 years immediately before 26 February 2001; or
  • You have a Centrelink certificate confirming that you were resident in Australia at a particular time.

If you are an ENZC, you are automatically entitled to a number of benefits which are not available to other New Zealanders. These include, among others:

  • Social security payments;
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme;
  • Youth Allowance;
  • Austudy; and
  • Sponsorship of family members for permanent residence.

An ENZC may nonetheless wish to apply for Australian citizenship, to acquire additional privileges such as being able to vote or hold an Australian passport.

Current cohort: Those who arrived after 26 February 2001

The majority of New Zealanders in Australia fall under the current cohort. Although they enjoy many rights and privileges in Australia, they are essentially considered “temporary” residents in perpetuity. In addition to the benefits limited to Australian citizens and permanent residents described above, New Zealanders may find themselves disadvantaged in certain circumstances. One such example included travel restrictions imposed on non-Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To resolve this status, New Zealanders in this category may apply for Australian citizenship upon meeting residence requirements. This entails being present in Australia for the period of 4 years before an application, and:

  • Not being absent for periods totalling more than 12 months during the 4 years; and
  • Not being absent for periods totalling more than 90 days during the 12 months preceding the application.

Please see here for our services in relationship to citizenship, and here for further information on the streamlined pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders.

The processing time for citizenship, from the application to the citizenship ceremony, is approximately 12 months. As such, New Zealanders who also fall under the first and second cohorts may instead wish to take advantage of their unique status, to access certain benefits without necessarily having to ensure the processing time of a citizenship application.  

What is the status of children born in Australia?

Since 20 August 1986, a child born in Australia is only a citizen if, at the time of birth, at least one parent was an Australian citizen or permanent resident. As the status of New Zealanders has fluctuated throughout the years, there are multiple possible situations for children born to New Zealanders in Australia:

Time of birth
Default status of New Zealanders in Australia
Citizenship status of children born to New Zealand parents with the status at that time

Prior to 20 August 1986

Exempt non-citizen


YES – All children born in Australia were Australian citizens from birth

Between 20 August 1986 and 31 August 1994

NO – A child born to an exempt non-citizen did not acquire Australian citizenship at birth.

Between 1 September 1994 and 26 February 2001

Special Category Visa


YES  – A child born to an SCV holder during this time was an Australian citizen from birth

Between 27 February 2001 to 30 June 2022

NO – A child born to an SCV holder did not become an Australian citizen unless the parent was an eligible New Zealand citizen.

Since 1 July 2022

YES – A child born to an SCV holder since this day is an Australian citizen from birth

This table shows the status which was ordinarily given to New Zealanders at any particular time. It does not apply to a child born to a parent who held a permanent visa, as such children are automatically citizens.

Even if a child did not acquire citizenship at birth, they automatically become an Australian citizen upon reaching age 10 if they have been ordinarily resident in Australia continuously since birth.

How can we help?

If you are a New Zealander in Australia, feel free to contact us by email at [email protected] or phone +61 3 9016 0484 for immigration advice. Our staff are well placed to assist with all issues in relation to permanent residence and citizenship applications for New Zealanders.

Edison Zhang

Author Edison Zhang

Edison discovered his passion for immigration and citizenship law while studying in Canada as an international student. He deeply sympathises with the challenges faced by immigrants, and hopes to help others gain the opportunity to start a new life in Australia.

More posts by Edison Zhang

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