In June 2020, I became an Australian citizen. Just like many others worldwide, I attended the virtual citizenship ceremony. Though it was not the way I had imagined I would become citizen, it turned out to be quick, direct and more personal than taking oath with thousand others in a big auditorium.
When I passed the Australian citizenship test in November 2019, I knew that I have no chance of attending one of the largest citizenship ceremonies of the year on Australia day i.e. 26th January. Especially not when my wife had yet to appear for the test and we had opted to attend the ceremony together. According to my calculation, I expected the ceremony invite by April 2020. Add to that the time it would take to get citizenship certificates, obtain Australian passports, surrender Indian citizenship and get the OCI, I thought I had enough time to plan for our long-overdue India trip by end of 2020. Alas, destiny had a different plan.
A New Villain On The Block – COVID-19
The first blow to my plan came with unexpected news. In mid-February, the entire Casey council which is my local council was sacked by the Victorian government over the corruption allegations. This was devastating news because it meant citizenship ceremonies would be delayed as it was the council’s responsibility to organise citizenship ceremonies.
Almost at the same time, another big problem was brewing silently. A first COVID-19 (was called novel coronavirus at the time) case occurred in Victoria. It had already started causing havoc in Europe, the US and other parts of the world. Slowly it took hold in Australia too causing offices to shut down, people to stay indoors and mass gatherings and group events to be cancelled including citizenship ceremonies.
Pretty early on, I knew that this pandemic is not going anywhere soon. So in April, when I read that the Australian government was trialling virtual citizenship ceremony, it was music to my ears.
Opting In For Virtual Ceremony
Though I was in no hurry to attend ceremony, it was still a good news and in times such as these, any good thing, no matter how small, was uplifting. By mid-June, I got a letter from the Department of Home Affairs asking whether I would be interested in attending a virtual citizenship ceremony. I was in two minds. On one hand, I wanted to attend the in-person ceremony because that’s how I imagined I would receive this honour. However, I didn’t know how long I would be waiting for that. May be months or even years!
On the other hand, if I had said yes, I would be citizen very fast. Agreed that it would be a virtual ceremony but that wouldn’t be so bad. No crowd, no waiting, no travelling. Instead, it would be more personal affair from the comfort of my home. Plus, it had historical value. Nobody in the past had or would be attending a virtual citizenship ceremony in near future.
As I thought more about it, the idea of virtual ceremony looked more promising. My wife agreed and we both replied to the email affirmatively. Within a couple of days, we got an email invitation to the virtual ceremony. Surprise, surprise! It was to take place just after 3 days. It was gonna be a Webex meeting. We began preparing for it with excitement.
Search for The Australian Flag
Setting up the laptop was the top priority.
Thankfully, since it was Webex appointment, the setup was quick and easy. In addition, I set up Webex app on my mobile as a backup.
My biggest worry was internet – what if the network was poor and the officer couldn’t hear or see us? Of course, the invitation email mentioned that in case of technical issues, they will reschedule the ceremony. But you don’t feel the same level of excitement the second time. So I prayed to the NBN god that I will not switch to another provider if it blessed us with good connectivity during the ceremony. 😀
I wanted to record the whole event as a special memory. I had a Canon EOS M5 camera and a Vanguard tripod catching dust on the shelf for a long time. I decided to put them to use.
Next was clothing. My initial thought was that I will need to suit up. However, based on the past experiences of friends who had undergone the ceremony, I understood that it was not a requirement. Plus, nothing of the sort was mentioned in the invitation email. So we decided to wear smart casuals.
Of course, the event like this was not going to be complete without some Australian flags. So I looked around on the web and found a family-run home business – Flags Down Under. I was after a nice banner flag which would have looked lovely during the ceremony. Unfortunately, they didn’t have that and I didn’t have time to shop it from eBay or somewhere else. Plus, what would be a better time than this to support a local small business? So I settled for a few handheld flags.
Finally the day of the ceremony arrived. By the time we finished some pre-ceremony photo shoot and set up camera and laptop, it was already ceremony time.
Hurriedly, all three of us – my wife, daughter and me – settled in front of the laptop. A nice soft-spoken lady officer named “Min” (no, she was not Asian, it’s short for Minakshi) greeted and welcomed us to the ceremony. She mentioned that my daughter need not be present for the ceremony and that she didn’t have to take the pledge.
Before the ceremony, she asked my wife and me for the drivers license or passport to verify our identity. Once our identities were verified, the ceremony began by making the pledge. We both repeated five lines of citizenship pledge after the officer.
“Congratulations, you both are Australian citizens now!” exclaimed the officer.
We clapped and cheered. We waited for this day for so long. If somebody would have told me that I would be Australian citizen before turning 40, I would have laughed. I never thought of living abroad let alone be a citizen and yet, here I was holding back tears as I received citizenship.
It was an emotional rollercoaster ride of nearly 6 years. Many times I felt like I can’t do it, that I should just move back to India, especially during my job-hunting days. But as someone said – you are so close to success when you give up – and this was the reward for not giving up.
“You will receive your citizenship certificates within three weeks by registered post” the officer told us. “You will also receive instructions on how to register as a voter with Australian Electoral Commission along with the certificate. Please celebrate this day and make it memorable.”
Goes without saying that I gained a few pounds by gobbling up some Jalebis and Samosas, strengthening cultural ties between Australia and India. 😀
That was it. The whole ceremony process took about 7 minutes. Thankfully, we didn’t face any internet or other technical issue.
Application For Electoral Enrolment
Though Min said that we will receive our certificates within 3 weeks, we got them merely 6 days after the ceremony.
Like mentioned by Min, the package contained electoral enrolment form and an a return envelope.
Most of the form was pre-filled. We just had to fill in our contact details and sign it. Once filled, I just took a photo and uploaded it on the AEC website. Easy, peasy!
Within 8 days of uploading the form, we received emails confirming our electoral enrolment. The whole process was rather smooth and easy. After a few weeks, we also received a letter congratulating us on our citizenship from the local MP.
To Sum Up
Although the citizenship ceremony was completely different from what I had envisaged a few years ago, it was still memorable and once in a lifetime event. In a hindsight, Covid-19 gave me (and many others who got citizenship this year) a unique place in the history of Australian citizenship. We shared our joy with our friends and relatives by sharing photos and short video of the ceremony. All that remained was to get Australian passports. More about that in my next post.
Read other articles in this series:
- My Journey To Australian Citizenship : Getting Eligible
- Getting Indian PCC for Australian Citizenship
- My Journey To Australian Citizenship : Gathering Documents
- My Journey To Australian Citizenship: Citizenship Application
- My Journey To Australian Citizenship : Citizenship Test Preparation
- The Australian Citizenship Test: My Experience