Citizenship application & past criminal convictions

Are you applying for Australian Citizenship?

Do you have a criminal conviction(s) in Australia or overseas?

Part of the eligibility criteria for Australian citizenship is the Minister of Immigration being satisfied that the applicant is of good character: s21(2) of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (the Act).

The expression ‘good character’ is not defined in the Act. However, the case law suggests that if there is a criminal conviction the decision maker will have regard to the nature of the crime to determine whether or not it reflected adversely upon the character of the applicant, and the decision will turn his attention to whether or not the applicant has shown that he has reformed: Irving v Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs [1996] FCA 663 per Davies J at 425. In some cases even where a conviction is not recorded it may have an adverse effect on a citizenship application (see Jiang case below).

Given its broad and difficult to define nature, the Minister has set out guidelines for Departmental staff to assist in applying the good character requirement. These are located in Chapter 10 of the Australian Citizenship Instructions. While these instructions do not form part of the law on this subject, by following the guidelines, all applicants receive equal treatment by departmental officers. The overview to Chapter 10 provides a useful summary:

‘Good character refers to the enduring moral qualities of a person, and is an indication of whether an applicant is likely to uphold and obey the laws of Australia and the other commitments made through the pledge should they be approved for citizenship…’

For serious criminal convictions a significant amount of time may have to have passed before the decision maker is satisfied that the applicant is of good character. Again, neither the department nor the Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) have established what a significant amount of time is and thus each case must be determined on a case by case basis.

There are however some cases that have shed some light on whether or not a suitable amount of time has passed since the offence to allow for a person’s character to change and for citizenship to be granted.

Sharma and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (Citizenship) [2015] AATA 608 (19 August 2015):

The applicant appealed the DIPB’S decision to refuse citizenship to the AAT.

In June 2012 the applicant was convicted of the offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and destroying or damaging property, that were domestic violence related. The applicant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a good behaviour bond for 12 months. The Tribunal regarded the offences as serious.

The applicant was advised by police to undergo counselling with his family to resolve the source of the domestic violence, but the applicant refused to do so.  At the tribunal, the applicant alleged that he received help from the local community health team. The applicant did not present any evidence to show that he had done any rehabilitation.

The applicant’s good behaviour bond expired in June 2013, thus creating a two year gap between his release from the good behaviour bond and the AAT’s decision. The Tribunal member cited that without evidence of rehabilitation, the period since the applicant’s release from the bond is not long enough to be satisfied that the applicant has reformed. In conjunction to this the applicant did not display remorse but rather attempted to justify his actions.

Jiang and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (Citizenship) [2015] AATA 597 (14 August 2015):

The applicant first arrived in Australia in February 2006. The applicant had a friend that, over several years, would engage in identity theft for the purposes of obtaining multiple credit cards. The applicant was aware of this and had at times aided and facilitated this.

Eventually in May 2014 the applicant pleaded guilty to the following offences: knowingly deal with proceeds of crime; possessing identification information with an intention to commit or facilitate an offence; and dishonestly undertaking or assisting in the retention of stolen goods.

The applicant was fined $4000 with no conviction recorded. From the date of conviction to the date of the Tribunal decision in August 2015, 15 months had passed. The tribunal member had deemed the 15 months as insufficient time to demonstrate a reformed character, describing it as only a short period of time. Furthermore, the tribunal member was not satisfied with the statements given in support of the applicant as they had only a “general understanding” of the applicant’s criminal history. As a result the AAT affirmed the Department’s decision to refuse his application for conferral of Australian citizenship.

You may care to contact us to discuss your particular circumstances before submitting an application