The Australian government says its crackdown on citizenship requirements will improve security but his has shaken up some communities.
Some ethnic communities say they feel unfairly targeted by the changes that will affect tens of thousands across the country.
That includes permanent resident Sara Balsamini, a business analyst who migrated from Italy in 2010.
“I moved to Australia initially with a working holiday visa,” she told SBS World News.
“It was supposed to be an experience, and then I just fell in love with the country and then I decided to try and stay. I was only two weeks away from completing my application.
“I had already collected all my documents, officially translated them, found a witness for my identity declaration. I was ready to apply.”
Ms Balsamini said she had already integrated successfully in the community, but now with the proposed changes to the citizenship laws, feels unfairly targeted.
“It’s devastating, it puts a lot of uncertainty on my life and it was shocking for me that the government was trying to make these changes retrospectively for people that had already qualified, and already paid for a non-refundable fee, and already planned their life accordingly,” Ms Balsamini said.
A question of security?
A Senate inquiry saw more than 13,000 submissions made, both for and against the government’s citizenship bill.
The Coalition believes tighter citizenship laws will bolster national security. But according to the CEO of the Australian Arab Council, Randa Kattan, there is an embedded air of discrimination.
“I’m not sure how it will improve security. It looks like it’s only the brown countries that are being targeted. So in my opinion this is about race-baiting,” Ms Kattan said.
“It is of great concern because we need to kind of scrutinise, we need to look at this very carefully; what messages is it sending, what messages is it sending to the people who are already contributing to this country, to society; what message is it sending to the general community about the people who are applying to become citizens of this country.”
Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS World News the government believes its measures are non-discriminatory, and are in Australia’s best interests.
“Across the board they’ll apply to everybody equally,” he said.
“We’re looking for people that want to come here and integrate, adopt Australian values, and become great members of the Australian community regardless of where they’re from.
“The government’s measures are designed to stop those people who don’t want to come here and integrate and become Australian citizens with those values that you would expect.”
Joseph Caputo, Director of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia, warned Australia’s storied multicultural legacy is at stake.
“It is under threat, and I think that history is a good guide for the future,” Mr Caputo said.
“I think the good sense of Australians, the fair go, you know giving the fair go to everyone, should prevail, and the fact that we’ve done so in the past that everyone that has reached our shores have been given a fair go.
“That’s what made Australia [what it is] today, and we should not threaten it with proposed laws that will make it very very difficult for many many, many new arrivals.”
Stricter language requirements and a revised waiting period of four years instead of one, has the Chinese community most concerned.
“They’re dismayed at the proposed changes, and everybody is worried,” explained President of the ACT Chinese Australian Associations, Chin Wong.
“The Chinese community, like other multicultural communities, a lot of us feel that we’ve been targeted because English is not our first language.
“We have people that have been here for nearly ten years, but with the changes of rules they know that they have to wait for another four years because they have to start all over again. Australia might lose a lot of those well-educated and well-young professionals.”
But changes to the waiting period would in fact mirror other western countries. In the United States, permanent residents wait five years before they can apply for citizenship.
In Canada, permanent residents must have lived in the country for four out of the previous six years, to be eligible.
It takes five years in France, eight in Germany, while in the United Kingdom it takes six years – with one year as a permanent resident, before citizenship is possible.
Senate committee chair, Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, concedes a retrospective rule needs to be included so the new laws do not apply to people previously eligible to apply. But he believes the bill will add value to the term “citizen”.
“There should be some transitional power in the minister to allow individual cases where that was appropriate,” Senator Macdonald said.
“Anyone who wants to be a citizen and who is genuine will be able to get there. It might take them a little bit longer, but they will get there and they won’t have any problem.
“I think Australia will be better for it, having a citizenship that really means something and that counts.”
Chair of the Australian-Indian Youth Dialogue, Karan Anand, believes such a response is not good enough.
“I think a degree of empathy is really important in understanding those circumstances, and patience is quite a broad term to be using in this frame,” Mr Anand told SBS World News.
“I think part of the rhetoric needs to be that ‘we welcome you and we want you to be in the Australian community’, contributing productively as well. And that needs to be part of the messaging that goes out with this legislation.
“We want to make sure that they feel welcomed regardless of what happens with our citizenship laws going forward.”
The bill is unlikely to stand in its current form due to insufficient cross-bench support. But what the final outcome will be, remains far from certain.