How I became an illegal alien in the country where I was born – Australia

The author’s certificate of Australian citizenship issued in May 1999.

Federal politicians are falling like snapped poppies in Parliament as the dual citizenship crisis continues.

But here’s a curly one.  Some of those dual citizenship holders might only have the right to one passport and it’s not Australian.

Come again?

I speak from experience. The Australian Citizenship Act (1948) forbade Australian-born Aussies from taking up another country’s citizenship. Remember the fanfare with Rupert Murdoch ditched his Australian passport to become a US citizen?

Sure, you could take up another country’s citizenship as an Aussie-born, but you’d be inadvertently forfeiting your right to be an Aussie. That’s right, you’d lose your Australian citizenship. That happened to me when I took up Croatian citizenship in 1995. My parents hail from there and I was in that country doing my bit during the war. To keep working there (for the Foreign Press Bureau), there was pressure to take out Croatian citizenship.

At the time, I asked the Australian consulate in the capital, Zagreb, if it would affect my Australian citizenship.

“It’s no problem, you can have both,” he said.

So, off I went to get my ‘homeland’ certificate, which showed I had a right to live in Croatia if at least one parent had been born there. A few forms and a couple visits to some long-forgotten government office and I had my crisp Croatian passport within the month. (Meanwhile, my cousin’s wife, who had been born in Bosnia Herzegovina, struggled for months to get hers showing some favouritism towards passport candidates from down under).

Returning to Australia in August 1995, all was good, I continued working as a suburban reporter, devouring a couple of newspapers a day minimum. Lucky, I did. In 1999, I read about the government having amended the 1948 citizenship act to allow Australian-born folks to take up a second passport. Erh, that meant I’d lost mine. I checked with the Department of Immigration and they confirmed I was only a Croatian citizen.

I rang my mother, who also lived in Melbourne.

“Hey, mum. Guess what?


“I’m an illegal alien and have been for the past four years,” I said.

There was silence.

I explained, slowly.

Then came her haranguing that a Croatian passport would do me no good, it had no value, and I had to apply somehow, somewhere to get my “real” passport back. The change to allow Australian-born people to become dual citizens had come into force in May 1997 (

Croatian passport belonging to the author

I applied for Australian citizenship. It was painless. I recall filling in a stat dec and sent evidence of my work and mortgage and bank accounts in Australia and that I had a partner, friends, and family here. Without any fanfare, not even an invite to a citizenship ceremony, my certificate of Australian citizenship arrived in the mail. A piece of unbending cardboard keeping it schmick in the A4 envelope.

Perhaps I’m one of the few Australian-born people who has not only a birth certificate to attest to my birthplace, but a citizenship certificate to doubly confirm I’m dinky di.

But back to the pollies. If they were Australian born and had acquired another country’s citizenship before May 1997, technically they would still be that other country’s citizen. Have they applied to resume their Australian citizenship? Might just leave that one for the High Court to work out.

  1. Here’s the relevant sections of that May 1997 amendment to the 1948 Australian Citizenship Act which allowed me to ‘resume’ my Australian citizenship.

1)  Where:

(a)  a person:

(i)  has done a voluntary and formal act, other than marriage, by virtue of which the person acquired the nationality or citizenship of a country other than Australia; or

(ii)  has done any act or thing:

(A)  the sole or dominant purpose of which; and

(B)  the effect of which;

was or is to acquire the nationality or citizenship of a foreign country;

being an act or thing that resulted in the person ceasing to be an Australian citizen;

(b)  the person furnishes to the Minister a statement, in writing, to the effect that:

(i)  if the person had not done the act or thing, the person would have suffered significant hardship or detriment; or

(ii)  at the time when the person did the act or thing the person did not know that he or she would, as a consequence of doing the act or thing, cease to be an Australian citizen;



23B  Persons may resume citizenship lost under section 23

(1)  A person who, under section 23, has ceased or ceases to be an Australian citizen may, within one year after attaining the age of 18 years or within such further period as the Minister, in special circumstances, allows, make and furnish to the Secretary or to a person authorized by the Secretary by instrument in writing for the purposes of this section a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form that the person wishes to resume Australian citizenship.

(2)  A person to whom a declaration is furnished under subsection (1) shall register the declaration in the prescribed manner and, upon the registration of the declaration, the person making the declaration again becomes an Australian citizen.



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