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Australia welcomes over 1,300 new Irish citizens

MORE than 1,300 Irish people -- the equivalent of the population of Durrow, Co Laois -- have been granted Australian citizenship over the past 12 months.

However, rather than saying a final farewell to Ireland, some are expected to return home in the years to come.

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of Irish seeking Australian citizenship, with figures up more than 50pc in the past decade.

In 2001, 852 people applied to become citizens Down Under; by last year this had risen to 1,302.

Some 203 of them will take part in special citizenship ceremonies to be held today as part of celebrations marking Australia Day.

But Edwina Shanahan, manager of www.visafirst.com, said not all of these would stay in Australia forever, and some could be hedging their bets by getting Australian citizenship while also keeping their Irish citizenship.

Workers who have permanent residency visas -- 4,000 of which were granted to Irish people last year -- can stay in Australia as long as they wish.

However, if they leave without having organised citizenship, even for just a holiday, they have to reapply for a visa. Ms Shanahan said she expected some new citizens to return to Ireland in the coming years and, if they found the economy was still in the doldrums, they and their families would be able to return.

"I do believe a lot of people who apply for citizenship have the intention of coming home maybe six to 10 years down the line. They are keeping the door open to return if it doesn't work out," she said.

Ms Shanahan said she expected the number of Irish emigrants getting citizenship to spike in the coming years, as you need to be resident in Australia for four years before you can apply.

Around 1,800 permanent residency visas, the pathway to citizenship, were granted in 2007 and many of these individuals will be expected to become citizens this year.

To become an Australian citizen, once you have satisfied residency requirements, you must sit an exam and, if you pass, you are made a citizen at a special ceremony.

Irish people can hold both their Irish passport and an Australian one at the same time.

While 6,000 employer-sponsored visas were granted to Irish people last year, the vast majority of people still travel to Australia on a working holiday visa.

Almost 14,000 of these were granted last year.

Irish Independent