There has been no bigger news in Trans-Tasman relations recently than the deportation of New Zealand citizens out of Australia. From the news reports, it appears that many of these Kiwis being deported have not spent any meaningful length of time in New Zealand, some of whom moved to Australia as children. For all intents and purposes they are Aussies, yet despite spending most of their lives there they are being deported to New Zealand.

In addition to this, much has been made of the unequal treatment between Kiwis and Aussies in terms of benefits and government support. The claim is that Aussies can come to NZ and get a whole range of benefits while Kiwis cannot do the same in Australia. Why and how is this possible?

The key difference is in the rights afforded to citizens (and permanent residence) of Australia and New Zealand in each respective country. In New Zealand, Aussies are treated as residents. In Australia, however, Kiwis are in a kind of hybrid visa situation.

Aussies in NZ

Under New Zealand law, when an Aussie citizen turns up at the border to enter New Zealand they are given the opportunity to apply for a resident visa. In practice, what this means is that when they hand their passport over at immigration and get their visa stamped (or get a nice picture taken at the e-Gate) they are granted a resident visa. As the holder of a New Zealand resident visa, Aussies can work and live in New Zealand indefinitely.

It also provides them with a pathway to permanent residence, which an Aussie can apply for after holding their resident visa continuously for 24 months (though if they leave NZ, the 24 month period starts again). Applying for a permanent resident visa is a relatively straightforward process and costs around $180. When our Aussie friend has their Permanent Resident Visa, they can apply for benefits, access student loans, and apply for a whole range of entitlements available to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

Kiwis in Aussie

The situation in Oz is a bit different.* Kiwis in Australia are not classed as residents but upon entry are granted what is called a special category visa (SCV). This is similar to a resident visa, in that it enables Kiwis to live and work in Australia indefinitely. However, it does not give Kiwis access to benefits and entitlements. If you’re a Kiwi in Oz, if get sick and can’t work, you’re tough out of luck.

To become a resident or permanent resident of Australia, Kiwis must apply under one of the regular categories of residence – like on the basis of family, partnership, job etc. The application fees for these applications go into the thousands of dollars, generally being quite significantly more expensive than similar visa categories in New Zealand. Prior to 26 February 2001 any Kiwi living in Oz was granted the rights of permanent residents. After this date, however, the change was made to grant Kiwis the SCV upon entry.

This is also the basis upon which Kiwis who have committed various crimes are being deported. On the basis of the crimes they have committed their visas are being cancelled, making them liable for deportation. We have similar laws in New Zealand around certain crimes making people liable for deportation or cancellation of their visas. The issue with the approach taken by Australia authorities appears to be the failure to consider the circumstances of individuals who have not spent any meaningful length of time in New Zealand before being deported.

A new permanent resident category for Kiwis in Oz?

The argument Kiwis are making is that the pathway to residence in Australia is too difficult. There is an argument to be made that a simpler pathway to residence should be made available to New Zealanders, especially given the skills and experience that many New Zealanders bring to Australia. It is also true that New Zealanders fit well into Australia given that our cultures are almost the same, which enhances settlement outcomes.

This writer suggests a policy prescription that would benefit both the aims of Kiwis in Oz and members of the Australian Government; that of a special residence visa category for New Zealanders who have shown a long term commitment to Australia. This could be that New Zealanders who have shown a commitment to Australia by a) holding full time skilled employment, or b) owning a home in Australia, or c) having resided in Australia for an extended period (2 – 5 years perhaps?), then this would alleviate some of the concerns that Kiwis have about residence requirements being too difficult.

These requirements are similar to the requirements that all resident visa holders need to show, in order to meet the permanent resident requirements in New Zealand. It would also still require that Kiwis in Oz go through the process of applying for residence, meaning that a commitment to Australia would have to be shown before they could obtain residence and consequently citizenship (and the entitlements that go along with that).

This is certainly an issue that won’t be going away any time soon.

*N.B. we are not specialists in Australian immigration law, so for further advice on Australian immigration matters it would be best to seek out a lawyer or migration agent who specialises in Australia immigration law.