By Leesha McKenny
“This [tension] is in our mind because the Department of Immigration [now known as the Department of Home Affairs], they do not give us citizenship,” he told SBS News.
“We thinking maybe one day they send us back to Afghanistan.”
The Hazara man (an ethnic group native to Hazarajat in central Afghanistan) was granted permanent residency by Australia in 2010, has been waiting more than three years to learn if he can take an oath of allegiance to his adopted home.
“I wish for that; that one day I am Australian citizen,” Reza, now aged in his 40s, said.
While almost 13,000 migrants attended Australia Day citizenship ceremonies across the country on Friday, others shared Reza’s predicament.
Delayed cases increase 450 per cent
An 18-month investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, released in December, found the number of people subject to heightened identity checks and waiting more than two years on the outcome of a “citizenship by conferral” application - such as former refugees - had skyrocketed 450 per cent.
This increase - a jump from 338 cases requiring enhanced screening in November 2016 to almost 2000 by the middle of last year - was despite an overall drop in the number of complex applications awaiting a decision, the ombudsman found.
Citizenship by conferral is a stream open to permanent residents who satisfy a range of criteria, pass a citizenship test and take part in a citizenship ceremony.
As of early January, there were 167,820 outstanding conferral applications, 5680 of which were more than two years old.
The ombudsman's investigation focused on those subject to "enhanced screening and integrity checks" due to background factors such as country of origin, an "irregular" arrival or due to any changes made to personal information.
The oldest of these case had been “on hand” for more than four years, according to the report. This compared to the department’s “service standard” for processing most cases of just 80 days.
“In early 2016, the Commonwealth Ombudsman started to experience an increase in complaints from people awaiting decisions on their citizenship applications for more than a year, and sometimes over two years,” the December report said.
“In the past year and a half, we have received approximately 300 complaints about delays by the department."
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