Friday, June 27, 2008

Life milestones

My application for British citizenship has just been approved. I am not a British national yet, as I have to attend a ceremony and swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen first. I already owe allegiance to the same Queen wearing a different hat (or should it be crown), but this does not count. As I have just moved, the ceremony will be one held by Wandsworth council and not Tower Hamlets council. This is kind of a shame, as I suspect the Tower Hamlets ceremony might have been slightly more colourful.

This does not affect my Australian citizenship, although Australian law was only changed to allow Australians who took out foreign citizenship to keep their Australian citizenship in 2002 (*). It does not affect my right to live in the UK, which I had already, and it does not give me any additional voting rights, as I have had full voting rights since the moment I moved here. (Britain gives full voting rights to citizens of all Commonwealth countries resident in the UK. When I was student here, I rather weirdly had the right to vote or indeed to become Prime Minister, without having any right to work or to live here for more than a short finite period).

Where it does help me is that it means that if I want to leave the UK in the future and come back, I will have voting rights while I am away and the unconditional right to return, whereas the type of permanent residency I had ("Indefinite leave to remain") can be lost after two years absence. Also, as an EU citizen I will have treaty rights that I do not have now, including the right to live and work anywhere in the EU (and in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein under other treaties). If I ever want to (say) retire to Portugal, I now can.

And of course I can get in the short queue at British airports.

The one thing I shall lose is my right to stand for federal Parliament and/or become Prime Minister of Australia, as the Australian constitution forbids anyone who holds foreign citizenship from taking a seat in parliament. I could still theoretically stand for one of the Australian state parliaments, although heaven forbid that I would want to do such a thing ("You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy...").

(*) Curiously, dual Australian/other citizenship was allowed prior to that in all other cases, including allowing foreigners who were naturalised as Australians to keep their foreign citizenship, and in cases where people got combinations of Australian citizenship and some other through birth. Everyone recognised that the situation was anomalous, both political parties were in favour of changing the law, and yet somehow governments failed to get around to changing it. It was to be voted on soon when Labor was voted out in 1996, but the new government (despite theoretically supporting the change) decided to set up a new commission to investigate the matter etc etc which ultimately reached exactly the same conclusions as the previous one, and then finally managed to change the law in 2002. In the mean time, enforcement of the previous law had been changed somewhat. The previous law had allowed anyone who had lost Australian citizenship upon taking out foreign citizenship to apply to resume their citizenship, if they would have suffered "significant hardship or disadvantage" if they had not taken out foreign citizenship. By the time the law was changed, having to spend time in the long non-EU nationals queue at a British airport was considered a "significant hardship".

Actually, having spent a lot of time in such queues (particularly at Stansted on Sunday nights) I do rather see the point.

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