Tens of thousands of Kiwis face a long slog to get citizenship in Australia after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced tough new rules.

Applicants for citizenship must now have been a permanent resident for four years, up from one year.

That puts many Kiwis in Australia on the back foot. Permanent residents cannot get student loans, join the defence force, or vote in Australia. Non-citizens can also be deported if they commit even a minor crime.

Applicants for citizenship will also need to pass an English test and provide evidence they have been working.

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From April 20 applicants for citizenship must have been a permanent resident for four years - up from one year currently. Photo / Mark Mitchell
From April 20 applicants for citizenship must have been a permanent resident for four years - up from one year currently. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Devastated Kiwis flooded social media pages last night, fearing the goalposts were about to be moved, further disadvantaging them and their children.

Many had been permanent residents for almost a year and were weeks or days away from being able to apply for citizenship but now have to wait three more years.

Last year a new "Pathway to Citizenship" was created for Kiwis in Australia, which Turnbull and then-Prime Minister John Key trumpeted as a sign of the close bond between the two countries.

The pathway allowed New Zealanders who arrived in Australia between 2001 and early 2016 and who had earned more than A$53,000 ($56,700) a year for five consecutive years to apply for permanent residence from July 1, 2017.

It was meant to speed up the path for citizenship but under the new rules, they would then need to wait another four years to become citizens, making a total of nine years for some.

The bill still must be tabled in Parliament but if passed into law would be backdated to apply to all citizenship applications from yesterday.

Last night the Oz Kiwi organisation was calling for New Zealanders in the country to campaign to stop the bill being made law.

Many also called for the New Zealand Government to reciprocate by making it harder for Australians to get New Zealand citizenship.

Kiwi Lynn Boult said on Facebook that she had been in Australia for 15 years and it would cost more than $3000 just to gain residency. The new rules were "frustrating" after all her hard work.

"I'd like to see New Zealand push harder on this or maybe change the rules for Australians entering New Zealand so that it works both ways," she said.

Michael McVicar agreed. "The NZ Government can't keep letting Aussies coming over have access to everything while it's not reciprocated the other way. Very sad. I've been here nine years and pay a decent amount of tax to the government for what?"

Tim Gassin, from Oz Kiwi, thinks the Australian Government hasn't thought the issue through properly as it is "incompatible" with the Pathway to Citizenship the Turnbull Government announced last year with John Key.

"They've been leading Kiwis on, saying we're going to have this generous policy where you can all become citizens in 12 months. Then two months before the Pathway launched - so a whole lot of people have been waiting thinking they can apply when it comes up and become citizens - now their hopes have been dashed."

The organisation represents Kiwis in Australia to the New Zealand and Australian governments. It is focusing on campaigning for the New Zealand Government to put pressure on Turnbull to change his mind, Gassin said.

One in 10 migrants in Australia is from New Zealand, yet in the Australian Department of Immigration no one is tasked specifically with dealing with Kiwis, he claims.

That means immigration decisions are often made without anyone considering the effect they have on New Zealanders in Australia, Gassin said.

"People are very disappointed. They've been here paying taxes for, say, 16 years; they're good members of society, and now they get this slap in the face with no justification."

Oz Kiwi plans to put pressure on the New Zealand Government.

"Frankly the New Zealand Government has been trumpeting the agreement with Australia for a year and a bit, saying this is a great deal, look how chummy we are with the Aussies, look at the influence we have through quiet diplomacy. Well yeah, and the result is they haven't held them to account."

In Australia, Labor and the Greens have expressed misgivings about the changes. Oz Kiwi will be pressuring crossbenchers with an aim to get the bill blocked in the senate.


Australian citizenship key benefits

Financial assistance for education including student loans.
Vote in federal and state or territory elections, and in a referendum.
Apply for work in the Australian Public Service or in the Australian Defence Force.
Seek election to parliament.
Apply for an Australian passport and re-enter Australia freely.
Receive help from an Australian official while overseas.
Register children born overseas as Australian citizens by descent.
Protection from deportation for committing crimes.