For people living in Australia on a permanent residency visa, the opportunity to become a citizen provides a range of benefits. These include access to government-supported university placements, being able to vote and to be fully active citizens.
Many young refugees spend years living and studying in our community, unaware that they are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship and to receive all the rights and security that provides.
Working with , the Youth Citizenship in the Westproject is reaching out to eligible young people aged up to 24 years through schools and community groups so they can access free legal support to make an application.
The project aims to increase awareness of the benefits of gaining Australian citizenship and provide legal assistance to young people in Melbourne’s western suburbs who are on a visa, are eligible for citizenship and for different reasons have not applied for it.
The project focuses particularly on people with a refugee background, encouraging them to consider undertaking this journey and to fully embrace a sense of belonging to their Australian community. It also reduces the risks of visa cancellation and potential deportation for young people with a refugee background who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
While the process to apply for citizenship seems straightforward, there are a number of compounding issues that may prevent young people from applying, including:
- a perception that being on a permanent visa is sufficiently secure
- difficulty in accessing the required documentation
- their proficiency in English
- cost of the application
- difficult family relations
- anxiety about navigating an unfamiliar system.
‘A lot of your people on a permanent residency visa that have not proactively chosen to apply for citizenship do not realise how this may limit them in the future,’ says Gaetano Romano, coordinator of the Youth Citizenship in the West project.
‘They may miss the opportunity to access government supported university placements and will not be able to vote and be fully active citizens. Ultimately, the permanent visa holds them in a more precarious position, particularly if they come into contact with the criminal justice system.’
Working in partnership to provide assistance
This project takes a people-centred design approach and is being implemented in partnership with WEstjustice and other local partners, to provide a wrap-around citizenship service that young people can access to be supported and assisted along their citizenship journey.
Partners are supporting the program in a range of ways, including:
- community service providers connecting their clients to the program and supporting clients in non-legal aspects of their citizenship journey
- schools and community groups providing venues for Community Legal Education sessions
- community legal centres raising awareness of the project and conducting education sessions
- community legal centres working together with us to directly assist clients with legal information and advice
Our project coordination role also involves providing training for the community legal centre sector and school lawyers in the citizenship application process, with the first session on citizenship conducted by our senior project lawyers for 12 lawyers from WEstjustice in March 2023.
‘A lot of students with refugee backgrounds only fully realise the limitations of being on a visa when they explore the possibility to go to university and learn that they have to pay full fees that they cannot afford,’ says Westjustice school lawyer team leader Vincent Shin.
‘We have witnessed this consistently over the years in our program. This project can make a change [to this] if we can provide [legal] advice.’
This project is generously funded for 12 months by the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner.
Reviewed 22 March 2023