9.7 Citizenship

Becoming an Australian citizen has become the hallmark of commitment to Australia, especially in the Bicentenary year, 1988. Yet census data show that those coming from the old Commonwealth countries (U.K, New Zealand, Canada, Malta) are the least likely 10 opt for Australian citizenship. This is consistent with the view that these immigrants do not feel that they would be gaining substantially by obtaining citizenship - they already had all the perceived rights, including voting at Federal, State as well as Local elections.

The citizenship rate for Maltese in Australia has been rather low, and comparable with other "British commonwealth" countries. Only 17% of Maltese migrants who had been residing in Australia for 12 years or less became Australian citizens, whereas 60% of those resident for more than 22 years became citizens. (Compare UK 65%, Italy 81%, Yugoslavia 82% - see Wearing 1985).

On the other hand it is ludicrous to conclude that those who have not citizenship show lack commitment to Australia, as has been implied over and over again recently.

The decision to become Australian depends on a number of factors. number of years resident in Australia is an important correlate. Wearing (1985) found little relationship between citizenship and general satisfaction and identification with the Australian way of life. For Maltese, as for other nationalities, the decision to become an does not depend on whether one is happy in Australia, or whether one is accepted by Australians, or whether one "feels" Australian.

The main reasons for this low rate of citizenship would include:

  1. Loss of Maltese citizenship. Maltese migrants do not part with the Maltese citizenship lightly. The long history of Maltese migration emphasises the desire for eventual return to Malta. The recent history relating to migrants of Maltese origin from Egypt and elsewhere who were refused settlement in Malta confirmed this fear that once Maltese migrants lose their original citizenship, they may be refused the right to settle in Malta. Although this has now changed, the fear may linger on.
  2. The hope and desire to return and settle back in Malta. Only after many years of residence, and with a settled growing family does one eventually come to terms with the fact that Australia is the country where one is going to live and die. Hence the fact that long-term residents have a much higher citizenship rate.
  3. Most Maltese migrants had voting and other rights already, and it was difficult to see any advantages in obtaining citizenship. This holds particularly for jobs (usually the lower paid ones) where Australian citizenship is not usually a requirement.

With the granting of double citizenship by the Malta Government in 1989, some of these fears would be less valid, and one expects that the citizenship rate would increase in the near future.

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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