Migrant’s Australian citizenship cancelled 18 years after it was approved

The man came to Australia at the age of 9 and has lived in the country for 41 years. Although his citizenship application was approved in June 2000, he failed to make a pledge of commitment to Australia.

A 51-year-old man’s Australian citizenship has been revoked 18 years after it was approved, because the Department of Home Affairs said he was not a permanent resident.

Lebanese national Hussein Kassem came to Australia in 1977 at the age of 9. He applied for Australian citizenship by conferral in May 2000, which was approved in June 2000. However, Mr Kassem did not attend a citizenship ceremony and never made a pledge of commitment which is a mandatory final step towards becoming an Australian citizen.

In April last year, the Department of Home Affairs cancelled his permanent visa after a court sentenced Mr Kassem to 3 years and 4 months for unlawful detention. He did not challenge the visa cancellation – something the Administrative Appeals Tribunal said was of “considerable significance”, even though he was “fully capable and entitled” to do so.

The Citizenship law

The Department subsequently cancelled the prior approval of his Australian citizenship in May this year on the basis that he was not an Australian permanent resident.

Mr Kassem appealed in the AAT against the revocation of his approval of his Australian citizenship.

In order to be an Australian citizen according to the Australian Citizenship Act, a person must be a permanent resident and be of ‘good character’.

Once approved, applicants have to attend a citizenship ceremony within 12 months and make a pledge of commitment.

The Citizenship law provides that the Minister may cancel the approval of a grant of citizenship if the applicant is not a permanent resident, is not of good character, or has failed to make the pledge of commitment.

Mr Kassem told the AAT that he would be rendered stateless if his citizenship is cancelled, however, the Tribunal found that he was a Lebanese citizen and would be able to secure a Lebanese passport at some stage.

Earlier decision to revoke citizenship approval

Mr Kassem told the AAT that he was a permanent resident at the time of the original approval of his citizenship application and that there was no express requirement under the law for him to continue to meet this requirement after the grant of approval, concluding that a mere “lapse of residency status” could not be the basis for cancellation of approval of his citizenship.

Senior Member of the AAT, Chris Puplick AM said no grounds could be found for supporting Mr Kassem’s proposition that there was no need for him to “continue” to hold a permanent residence visa after the initial approval for citizenship was granted.

The AAT heard that in May 2001, a decision was made to revoke the grant of citizenship on the basis that Mr Kassem had not made the required pledge by attending a citizenship ceremony and that his current whereabouts were unknown.

However, the approval of his application for citizenship by conferral remained in force as a new Australian Citizenship Act was passed in 2007 and the decision to revoke Mr Kassem’s grant of citizenship fell foul of certain transitional provisions of the new law.

“Substantial criminal record”

The Tribunal heard Mr Kassem had a substantial criminal record with convictions for multiple offences committed between 2000 and 2016, including ‘numerous traffic offences, drug offences, reckless wounding, suspected stolen goods in possession and detaining a person in company with intent to obtain advantage’.

On at least 11 occasions, Mr Kassem has been sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging in length from 2 months to his most recent sentence of 3 years and 4 months.

He did not deny his offending but attributed it to his problems with drugs. Mr Puplick said there’s no evidence that Mr Kassem has taken any “serious steps” to rehabilitate himself and that he is clearly not a person of “good character.”

Though the decision of the Department to revoke his citizenship was based on the fact he was no longer a permanent resident, Mr Puplick said the Tribunal can rely on the ground of Mr Kassem not being of a good character to decide his case.

The AAT decided that there was a good and proper reason for the cancellation of his citizenship on grounds of both is visa status and his character.