A special pathway to citizenship for expat New Zealanders living in Australia remains intact, Prime Minister Bill English has confirmed.
A spokeswoman for English said he had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today, a week after Turnbull announced tighter citizenship rules in Australia.
"Prime Minister Turnbull confirmed that the Pathway to Citizenship for eligible New Zealanders, announced in February 2016, has not been changed.
"It remains in place and on track, and is separate from the citizenship changes which Australia announced last week.
"Prime Minister English has thanked Prime Minister Turnbull for this confirmation."
Under the changes announced by Turnbull last week, applicants for Australian citizenship must have held permanent residency for four years - up from one year.
Expats were concerned that this would undermine an agreement signed off by Turnbull and former Prime Minister John Key last year, which made it easier for Kiwis to get citizenship if they arrived after immigration rules were tightened in 2001.
The Turnbull-Key agreement allowed New Zealanders who arrived in the country between 2001 and February 2016 and earned more than A$53,000 for five consecutive years to apply for permanent residency. They could then apply for citizenship after a year.
As Turnbull confirmed to English today, the immigration changes announced last week will not affect Kiwis in this category and they will retain the right to apply for citizenship after a year. The tougher rules will apply, however, to Kiwis who arrived in Australia after February 2016.
Around 100,000 out of 300,000 New Zealanders who arrived in the country after 2001 are believed to be eligible for the special pathway to citizenship. They previously had to compete against other migrants for permanent residence, which was capped.
Kiwi rights advocate David Faulkner said the preservation of the citizenship pathway would be welcomed by some expats. But he was concerned about New Zealanders who were ineligible for the pathway, such as those who arrived after 2016 or people who held Resident Return visas and had not yet applied for citizenship.
"It's also just creating a whole new cycle of people who miss out. You've got the 2001 cut-off point, and now you've got a 2016 cut-off point as well."
Australians, like other migrants, can get citizenship in New Zealand if they have lived here as a resident for five years. They also have easier access to entitlements such as benefits or student loans compared to Kiwis living in Australia.