Our Aussie citizenship has been almost five years in the making. First there was the 457 visa that got us to Perth, swiftly followed by an application for permanent residency. A few months, one excruciating English test for the (native English-speaking) Silver Fox and a quick trip to Sri Lanka for activation purposes later and we had PR. Then, just like with Australian health insurance, there was a waiting period: four years before we could apply for citizenship.
Four years is plenty of time to fret about the next stage in the process – the exam.
The citizenship test has almost mythical status among ex-pats here. Rumours abound as to its content. Don Bradman’s batting average features heavily in these rumours, as does an encyclopaedic knowledge of AFL teams. In reality, the knowledge you need to pass is probably far less useful in everyday life. You are quizzed on the various Australian flags, on the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the way government works. More than one Australian friend has told me they would struggle to pass.
So we studied. We read the booklet on the Department of Immigration website. We watched the cheesy videos on YouTube. And we (well, I) sighed with relief when we realised Bradman’s score was included in the ‘optional’ section, which would not feature in the actual exam.
The Silver Fox sat the test first, and I followed a few days later. At the test centre in the CBD, we each had a brief interview with an immigration officer, who checked our paperwork before taking us through to a room full of computers that reminded me of IT labs in further education colleges in the 90s. The officer sits you at one of the screens and you work your way through 20 multiple choice questions, before hitting ‘submit’ and finding out if they’re going to let you in this time.
We both scored 100 per cent – although the officer supervising my test advised I was free to lie to the Silver Fox about my result, as they only kept a note of who had passed and who had failed, not individual scores. (But for the record, I really did get 100 per cent.)
Our letters arrived within days. They were signed by Scott Morrison MP, and stressed how much Australia welcomed migrants. It did feel like someone had Tippexed out ‘as long as you are white and arrive by plane’, but the point is, we were in, as long as at some time in the next year we attended a citizenship ceremony…which brings us to Tuesday.
I fully expect the ceremony itself to be a bit of an anti-climax. We’ve been told we can bring family and friends, but everyone we know is either at work, or not in Melbourne. That’s the thing about being ex-pats – most of your family and friends tend to be overseas. And it’s not exciting enough an event for our Aussie friends to book leave for.
So we’ll take the pledge in the company of strangers before heading back to the office. There are vague plans for drinks later in the week, so we can indulge our friends in our first traditional ‘shout’ as Australians. Aussie passports will be applied for, simply to make it possible to join the shortest queue at the airport.
I wonder if we’ll feel any different. Will it be like the day after losing your virginity, when you think everyone can tell what you’ve been up to? Or will life carry on as normal, altered only by the slightly swifter passage through Melbourne International Airport, or the occasional opportunity to vote? We’ll see.
Wondering if you would pass the citizenship test? You can sit a practice one here. Let me know how you get on!