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Spinks and Michael Klapdor
Social Policy Section
This quick guide has since been updated on 13 February 2020.
Under various arrangements since the
1920s, there has been a free flow of people between Australia and New Zealand. Historically,
migration flows across the Tasman have been large in both directions, but since
the 1960s more New Zealanders than Australians have chosen to cross the Tasman
to live. In 2013–14,
the number of New Zealand permanent settlers who came to Australia was 27,274.
As at December
2015, there were an estimated 634,560 New
Zealand citizens present in Australia (although many of these would have been
short-term visitors, and not resident in Australia).
Under the Trans-Tasman
Travel Arrangement introduced in 1973, Australian
and New Zealand citizens are able to enter each other’s country to visit, live
and work indefinitely, without the need to apply for prior authority. New
Zealand is the only country in the world that has such an arrangement with
Australia. There are no caps on the numbers of New Zealanders who may enter
under the arrangement, and the only limitations on entry relate to health and
This quick guide outlines the visa requirements and
conditions for New Zealanders living in Australia, and provides an overview of
the services to which they are entitled as well as restrictions on entitlement
to services. It also briefly compares this with the services to which
Australians living in New Zealand are entitled. Finally, it summarises some of
the arguments that have been made for expanding New Zealanders’ access to
services, and outlines a new pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders which
has been recently announced.
The Special Category Visa
Since 1 September 1994, all non-citizens in Australia have
been required to hold a valid visa. As a result, the Special Category Visa
(SCV) was introduced specifically for New Zealand citizens. This visa is issued
on arrival and there is no need to apply prior to entering Australia. To obtain
an SCV, a New Zealand citizen must present a valid New Zealand passport and an
incoming passenger card to immigration officials upon arrival in Australia.
The SCV is classed as a temporary visa, and temporary visa
holders do not have the same rights and benefits as Australian citizens or
permanent residents. To access such rights, temporary migrants, including those
from New Zealand, must obtain permanent visas. In contrast, on entering New
Zealand, all Australian citizens and permanent residents are
automatically granted residence visas, and
may apply for permanent residence after having held a residence visa
continuously for two years.
Prior to 2001, New Zealand citizens in Australia on SCVs
could access social security and obtain Australian citizenship without first
becoming permanent residents. In February 2001, Australia entered into a new
bilateral social security arrangement with New Zealand and amended
citizenship laws for New Zealand citizens. Under these changes, all New Zealand
citizens who arrived in Australia after 26 February 2001 and who want to access
certain social security payments, obtain citizenship or sponsor family members
for permanent residence may only do so after applying for, and being granted,
permanent residence through the migration program.
arrangements were put in place for New Zealanders in Australia at the time
of the amendments. This means that New Zealanders who were already in Australia
as SCV holders on 26 February 2001 may continue to apply for
citizenship, sponsor family members for permanent residence and access social
security payments without being granted permanent visas.
What are New Zealanders in
Australia entitled to?
Eligibility for Australia’s social security system is based
primarily on residency and financial means. It is a basic qualification or
claim requirement for almost all pensions, allowances and benefits that persons
must be Australian residents. To be considered an Australian resident for
social security purposes, a person must reside
in Australia and be: an Australian citizen; or the holder of a permanent
visa; or an SCV holder who is considered a ‘protected’ SCV holder.
SCV holders are those SCV holders who:
- were in Australia on 26 February 2001
- were in Australia as an SCV holder for a period of, or periods
totalling, 12 months during the two years immediately before 26 February 2001
- commenced or recommenced residing in Australia within three
months from 26 February 2001 or
- were residing in Australia on 26 February 2001 but were
New Zealand citizens who have arrived in Australia since 26
February 2001 on SCVs are considered ‘non-protected SCV holders’ and have
restricted eligibility to social security benefits (see below).
For some social security payments there are additional
residency-related requirements. For income support payments, such as pensions
and allowances, a waiting period applies restricting access until persons have been
permanent residents in Australia for a certain number of years. Family
assistance payments generally have no waiting period and are available to
eligible permanent visa holders and SCV holders (protected and non-protected) immediately
upon arrival in Australia.
Entitlements for protected Special Category
Visa holders and permanent visa holders
New Zealand citizens who are protected SCV holders or
holders of permanent visas have the same social security entitlements as other permanent
residents. This means that they have the same eligibility as Australian
citizens, provided they have served any applicable waiting period.
The one exception to this is the Job
Commitment Bonus (JCB), which commenced on
1 July 2015 and is a lump sum payment paid to long-term Newstart Allowance and
Youth Allowance (Other) recipients who find gainful work for periods of 12
months and 24 months. All New Zealand citizens, both protected and non-protected
SCV holders, are
excluded from the definition of ‘Australian resident’ for the purpose of
assessing qualification for the JCB.
Entitlements for non-protected Special
Category Visa holders
New Zealand citizens who are non-protected SCV holders (those
who arrived after 26 February 2001) who intend to live in Australia permanently
are only eligible for certain payments under certain conditions.
Family assistance payments
Non-protected SCV holders are eligible for all family
assistance payments under the same conditions as Australian citizens. These
payments include: Family
Tax Benefit (FTB) including FTB Part A, FTB Part B, the Newborn
Supplement and Newborn Upfront Payment as well as the Energy
Care Benefit and Child
Care Rebate; Double
Orphan Pension; and Parental
Leave Pay (including Dad
and Partner Pay).
If they are renting privately and receiving FTB, they may be
eligible for Rent
Non-protected SCV holders are generally ineligible for
allowance payments. However, those who arrived in Australia on New Zealand
passports and have lived in Australia continuously for at least ten years since
26 February 2001 can access a once-only
payment of Newstart
Allowance or Youth
Allowance for a maximum continuous period of six months. The six-month
period does not start until any relevant waiting and/or preclusion/exclusion
periods have been served. Transfer between payments is not permitted under this
residence exemption. For example, a person in receipt of Newstart Allowance by
virtue of this exemption would not be able to transfer to Sickness Allowance.
Where non-protected SCV holders move on to permanent entry
visas (for example, a spouse visa), they are considered under the same
conditions as citizens of other countries, which in general means they are
subject to the two-year newly arrived migrant waiting period for allowance
Pensions and Carer Payment
Under Australia’s international
social security agreement with New Zealand, New Zealand
citizens living in Australia can apply for the Australian Age
Pension (if over the age of 65), Disability
Support Pension (DSP) (if they are severely disabled) and Carer
Payment (if they are caring for a partner on DSP), irrespective of whether
they are protected or non-protected SCV holders. The residency requirements for
the Age Pension require a total period of time lived in Australia and/or
periods of Working Age Residence (Working Age Residency refers to residency
between the ages of 20 and 65) in New Zealand of more than ten years. For DSP,
the person must have had at least ten years of residence in Australia or New
Zealand, become severely disabled while living in Australia or New Zealand and
resided in Australia for at least one year. For Carer Payment, an individual
must have lived in Australia and/or New Zealand for more than two years.
arrangements apply in relation to certain New Zealand payments (discussed
Non-protected SCV holders are not generally eligible to
receive the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment or the Disaster
Recovery Allowance. However, it has been the practice for ex-gratia payments to
be made to New Zealanders for major
Health Care Cards and the
Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Non-protected SCV holders are entitled to a low-income Health
Care Card (HCC) if they have served a newly
arrived resident’s waiting period of two years and meet the income test. The
HCC provides access to discounted medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits
Scheme (PBS) and access to concessions provided by state and territory
governments and some private businesses. Non-protected SCV holders who are receiving
the maximum rate of FTB Part A are automatically entitled to a HCC and do not
need to serve a waiting period.
Non-protected SCV holders who are over age pension age, not
in receipt of pension payments and who have served the newly arrived resident’s
waiting period of two years, may qualify for a Commonwealth
Seniors Health Card (CSHC). The CSHC provides access to discounted
medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), transport and other
concessions as well as the Energy Supplement payment worth $366.60 a year for
singles and $275.60 a year for each member of a couple (paid in quarterly
instalments). An income test applies to the CSHC.
The Australian health system comprises both publically
funded and privately funded health care. The public system includes Medicare,
public hospitals and the PBS,
while the private system includes private hospital treatment and treatments not
covered by Medicare, which can be covered through private health insurance. For
more information, see the Parliamentary Library publication Health
in Australia: A Quick Guide.
Generally speaking, in order to be entitled to Medicare a
person must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident. However, New
Zealanders who are residing in Australia are also eligible
for Medicare and can be issued with a Medicare card upon presentation of
documentation proving residence. Since New Zealand citizens who are lawfully
residing in Australia are entitled to Medicare, they must also pay the Medicare levy and the
levy surcharge (if their income is above the base income
threshold and they do not have an appropriate level of private patient hospital
Under Australia’s Reciprocal
Health Care Agreement with New Zealand, New Zealand residents
visiting Australia are also entitled to services as public patients in a public
hospital for medically necessary treatment and prescription medicines which are
subsidised under the PBS. They are also eligible
for the Private Health Insurance Rebate if they purchase eligible health cover
during their stay and meet the income test.
National Disability Insurance
The National Disability
Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides individualised support for eligible people
with permanent and significant disability, their families and carers, as well
as associated referral services and activities. The NDIS commenced on 1 July
2013 beginning with a trial phase known as the NDIS Launch. It is expected that
by 2019, the NDIS will be fully implemented in all Australian states and
The NDIS has similar residence
requirements as those applying to Australia’s social security system. To
access the NDIS, a person must be an Australian citizen, hold a permanent visa
or be a protected SCV holder. This means that New Zealand citizens who arrived
in Australia after 26 February 2001 may not access the NDIS.
The NDIS is partially funded through an increase
in the Medicare levy from 1.5% to 2.0% of taxable income. As noted above,
New Zealanders residing in Australia are required to pay the Medicare levy.
This has led to the complaint
that while New Zealanders residing in Australia as non-protected SCV holders are
responsible for partially funding the NDIS through the Medicare Levy, they are
not entitled to access its services.
In Australia, school education is funded by both federal and
state and territory governments, but enrolment matters fall under the
jurisdiction of state and territory governments. Government schooling is free
for Australian citizens and permanent residents. New Zealand citizens are
regarded as local students and therefore entitled to free public schooling in
all states and territories (for example, see information on enrolment in government
schools in the Australian
Capital Territory and South
Australia). New Zealand citizens are also eligible
for Australian Government per student recurrent funding which is paid to both government
and non-government schools.
All New Zealand citizens are considered
domestic students for the purpose of taking up Commonwealth-supported
places in universities. New Zealand citizens are also considered domestic
students for the purposes of higher degrees by research and therefore eligible
Postgraduate Award scholarships. In the vocational education
and training (VET) sector, New Zealand citizens have access to
government-subsidised places in some states and territories.
Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
Australian Government provides financial assistance to
tertiary education students (university and VET) through the Higher
Education Loan Program (HELP) and student income support. Until recently, New
Zealand citizens could not access HELP loans, as these were restricted to
Australian citizens and permanent humanitarian visa holders. However, from 1
January 2016, New Zealanders are now eligible providing
- hold a SVC
- first entered Australia as a dependent minor aged under 18 years
have been ordinarily resident in Australia for the previous ten
years (that is, physically present in Australia for at least eight out of the
past ten years) and for 18 months of the last two years at the time of
- meet other HELP eligibility criteria.
An interesting consequence of the new eligibility criteria
is that New Zealand citizens may only access HELP loans if
they hold a SCV. If they hold any other type of visa (for example a
permanent skilled or family visa), they are no longer eligible for HELP. This
means that New Zealanders who take up permanent residency as a means of
pursuing Australian citizenship become temporarily ineligible for HELP, but
become eligible again once they become an Australian citizen.
Student income support
Protected SCV holders are able to access student income
support payments, such as Youth Allowance (YA) and Austudy, under the same
conditions as Australian citizens and permanent residents. Non-protected SCV
holders who have resided in Australia for at least ten years since 26 February 2001
can qualify for a one-off YA payment for up to six months if they meet other YA
What are Australians in New Zealand
Australians in New Zealand face fewer restrictions in
relation to social security payments than do New Zealanders residing in
Australia. Generally, Australians residing (‘ordinarily resident’)
in New Zealand have the same social security entitlements as New Zealand
citizens, provided waiting periods (generally around two years) have expired.
The following are the main
New Zealand social security benefits and the particular eligibility
criteria relevant to Australian citizens:
Support (for sickness or unemployment): Australian citizens or former
residents (including New Zealanders returning after living in Australia) may be
eligible for Jobseeker Support, if they have been continuously resident in New
Zealand for at least two years.
Parent Support (for singles aged 19 years or over with a dependent child in
their care under the age of 14): Australian citizens or former residents may be
eligible if they have been continuously resident in New Zealand for at least
two years and if they fulfil other eligibility criteria.
Living Payment (for people with disability or their carers): Australian
citizens or former residents (including New Zealanders returning after living
in Australia) may be eligible for a Supported Living Payment, if they have been
continuously resident in New Zealand for at least two years and if they fulfil
other eligibility criteria.
Zealand Superannuation (the equivalent of Australia’s Age Pension):
Australian citizens or former residents (including New Zealanders returning
after living in Australia) may be eligible for the New Zealand Superannuation
if they meet eligibility criteria. Generally, eligibility is based upon residency
in New Zealand for not less than ten years since the age of 20, including five
years or more since the age of 50. Under the social security agreement between
Australia and New Zealand, periods of residence in Australia may be recognised
for the purposes of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation. It is not
income or assets tested, but receipt of an Australian pension may affect
Benefit may be provided to Australian citizens residing in New Zealand, if
those citizens have no other means of supporting themselves and are ineligible
for another benefit.
- The Family
Tax Credit is payable to eligible recipients of the above payments and the
same residency criteria apply. It is paid for each dependent child with the
rate based on family income, the number of dependent children and the age of
Reciprocal arrangements under the Australia-New Zealand social
security agreement also apply to other New Zealand payments, including
Access to health
care for Australians in New Zealand is generally equivalent to New
Zealanders’ entitlements in Australia. Under the Reciprocal
Health Care Agreement (RHCA), Australian citizens and permanent residents
temporarily in New Zealand may access necessary public hospital treatment,
pharmaceuticals and maternity services on the same terms as New Zealand
citizens. Publicly funded health care beyond that provided for under the RHCA
is available to Australians who are resident in New Zealand for two years or
more, or who can demonstrate an intention to reside in New Zealand for two
years or more.
Australian citizens in New Zealand are classified as domestic students and do not
require student visas. Until recently, Australian citizens became eligible to
apply for tertiary student allowances and student loans after a residency
period of two years. The two-year waiting period, referred to as a ‘stand
down’, was introduced in 2011. In its 2013 Budget, the New Zealand Government announced an increase in the stand down period
from two to three years. The changes took effect on 1 January 2014.
Does Australia gain greater benefit
from the arrangement than New Zealand?
For many years, New Zealander advocacy groups have argued that the
restrictions placed on post-2001 arrivals by the Australian Government are
unfair. These groups have campaigned for better treatment for New Zealanders in
Australia, arguing that Australians in New Zealand are entitled to a wider
range of benefits than New Zealanders in Australia. They also argue
that the restrictions on access to social security are unjust, as New
Zealanders living and working in Australia pay income tax, but are unable to
access many of the benefits paid for through the tax system.
In 2012, the Australian and New Zealand productivity commissions
conducted joint research to mark the 30th anniversary of the Closer Economic
Agreement with New Zealand. It included an examination of the economic impact
of trans-Tasman permanent migration. The report of this research, Strengthening
Trans-Tasman Economic Relations (2012) showed that New Zealand
loses a significant number of skilled migrants to Australia. Further, there is
an incentive for New Zealand nationals to return home after working in
Australia and for retired Australians to go to New Zealand to live, which places
an additional burden on New Zealand’s retirement income system.
The commissions also acknowledged that there were:
... issues about access to public services and assistance for
New Zealand citizens who have been in Australia for many years, many of whom
have paid taxes for years. These mainly centre on long term resident
non-Protected SCV holders and include: limited pathways to Australian permanent
residence and citizenship; no access to student loans for their children; and
restricted access to some social security payments and other supports.
The commissions noted that addressing these issues:
... would require policy changes by the Australian Government,
- developing a pathway for New Zealand citizens living long term in
Australia to achieve permanent residency and/or citizenship
- improving access for New Zealand citizens to tertiary education
and vocational training through the provision of student loans, subject to a
waiting period and appropriate debt recovery provisions
(together with the New Zealand Government), reviewing, and making
more explicit, the principles governing access to social security and further
developing bilateral engagement on migration policies, within the context of
CER [Closer Economic Relations], the single economic market and the
Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement
Some progress has been made on these issues since the
report’s publication. New Zealanders in Australia are now able to access HELP
student loans and the Australian Government has recently announced a pathway to
citizenship for some New Zealanders in Australia.
Revised social security agreement
In the 2016–17 Budget, the Australian Government stated
that it was negotiating with the New Zealand Government to amend elements of
the current international social security agreement. The amendments are
intended to reflect changes in the domestic legislation of both countries since
the commencement of the agreement in 2002.
A pathway to citizenship
On 19 February 2016, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull announced
that Australia would provide a pathway to permanent residency, and eventually
citizenship, for certain New Zealanders living in Australia, as of 1 July 2017.
This has been welcomed by the New
Zealand Prime Minister John Key and by many New Zealanders in Australia.
will be implemented via the Skilled Independent category of the General Skilled
Migration stream within the Migration program. It will not be available to all
New Zealanders residing in Australia, but only those who:
- have been resident in Australia for the five years immediately
prior to visa application
- can demonstrate, through income tax returns (Notice of
Assessment) for the period of residence, taxable income at or above the
Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT). This is the salary
threshold (currently set at $53,900) applied to applicants for a subclass 457
worker to ensure the position they will fill is skilled and
- satisfy mandatory health, character and security checks.
It will be available to New Zealanders who arrived in
Australia after 26 February 2001, but on or before the date of the
announcement, 19 February 2016. Thus, it is not a permanent arrangement for all
New Zealanders who may come to Australia in the future, but rather appears to
be a measure offering an outcome to those who are already in Australia and
campaigning for improved rights. The Department of Immigration and Border
Protection (DIBP) estimates
that between 60,000 and 70,000 New Zealanders in Australia will meet the
While the pathway has been welcomed by many New Zealanders,
it has been criticised by some commentators as being unnecessarily restrictive
and discriminatory. Criticism largely focuses on the
imposition of an income threshold, which will operate to exclude New Zealanders
working in low income jobs from accessing the pathway to permanent residency. Others
who are likely to be excluded are those who work part-time, women who have
recently taken time out of the workforce to raise children, and retirees who,
while they may have sufficient funds to support themselves, will not be able to
show a taxable income above the threshold for the last five financial years. According
to DIBP, there will be limited exemptions to the income test
for ‘vulnerable’ people, as determined by the Minister for Immigration and the
Minister for Social Services; however, no detail is available at this stage on which
categories of people might meet the vulnerability test.
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