Every year, hundreds of people who apply to renew their Australian passport or apply for citizenship by descent for their overseas-born children are notified by the Department of Home Affairs that they have ceased to be an Australian citizen some years ago. Often, this cessation comes without notice and the notification that they do not hold current Australian citizenship is shocking and can cause significant distress. Prior to 2002, many Australians who obtained the citizenship of another country were not aware that they will also automatically cease to be an Australian citizen.
Automatic Cessation of Australian Citizenship
Prior to 2 April 2002, a person of full age who by some voluntary or formal act other than marriage, did an act or thing to acquire the citizenship of another country ceased to be an Australian citizen under section 17 of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) (‘old Act’). There was no requirement to report the acquisition of another citizenship and the cessation occurred automatically as an operation of law.
Due to the automatic effect of section 17, the Department of Home Affairs does not have comprehensive records of those who lost their Australian citizenship under this provision. As such, errors may have been made when issuing evidence of Australian citizenship, Australian passports or in assessing citizenship applications. This means that you may hold an Australian passport without actually being an Australian citizen!
From 26 January 1949 to 30 November 1973, a person aged 21 or over was considered of full age and would have lost their Australian citizenship once they obtain citizenship from another country.
From 1 December 1973, a person aged 18 or over was considered to be of full age.
Location of Citizenship Acquisition
Prior to 22 November 1984, section 17 of the old Act applied to those who acquired another citizenship whilst outside of Australia.
Between 22 November 1984 and 2 April 2002, an adult ceased to be an Australian citizen upon acquiring another citizenship, regardless of whether they were in or out of Australia.
Under section 35 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), those who were affected by section 17 automatically acquired an ex-citizen visa which allowed them to lawfully remain in Australia. Once they leave Australia, they could not re-enter without a valid visa.
How you may come to find out of your loss of Australian citizenship under section 17:
- After applying for Australian citizenship by descent for their overseas-born children
- After applying to renew Australian passport
- After applying for proof of Australian citizenship
- Attempting to re-enter Australia after a long period of time living overseas
Repeal of section 17After much lobbying, especially from the expatriate community, major amendments were made to the old Act in 2002. From 4 April 2002, dual nationality was introduced for Australian citizens, allowing a person to simultaneously hold both Australian citizenship and the citizenship of another country. However the change was not retrospective, meaning those who lost their citizenship under section 17 do not automatically regain their Australian citizenship.
If you were affected by section 17 and wish to regain your Australian citizenship, speak to us today about an application to resume your Australian citizenship.
This blog post was written by Tra My Nguyen: Lawyer & Registered Migration Agent
Citizenship Policy and Instructions 27 – Resuming Australian Citizenship issued on 24 May 2019
Migration Act 1958 (Cth) s 35