This was recently asked on the Bootsnall travel blog and as I just posted my application for a UK passport on the weekend, it couldn’t be a more well-timed question.
There are two types of Australians who arrive in London ‘fresh off the boat’ for their ‘right of passage’ working-holiday experience – those who join the short queue and those who join the long queue.
Those in the short queue have the birth place of their parents or grandparents to thank for the maroon coloured passport in their hand.
I was in the long queue.
12 years later and I have passed the Life in the UK Test (being able to answer questions that most of my British friends cannot), filled in my ‘time in/out of the country schedule’, received the letter approving my citizenship application, attended the ceremony, pledged my allegiance to the Queen, received my certificate and now applied for my first UK passport.
The journey towards dual citizenship started a decade ago as my initial two year working holiday visa was coming to an end. Simply put – I wasn’t ready to go home. I explored other options to stay in the UK and was lucky enough to be sponsored by the company I was working for. What started as an attempt to extend my working-holiday lifestyle became an unplanned journey towards dual citizenship.
As I reflect on this journey, I ask myself a question: does a passport define who you are or simply what you can do?
I realised at my UK Citizenship Ceremony that there are a number of different answers to this question. I only had to look around the room as I listened to God Save the Queen belt out of the portable CD player or look at the expression on the faces of each person as they shook hands with the local Mayor as he handed us our certificates.
There was the bored young man there on his own, constantly on his blackberry and checking his watch, who I guessed saw his UK passport as a practical requirement to keep working in the country. Then there was the young woman who kept looking over excitedly to her husband and young child who were taking photographs from the audience, whose UK passport was the final chapter in her love story. There were the sisters who couldn’t stop giggling, the older woman who had a constant smile on her face, the man who looked like he wanted to fall asleep and the niece of an emotional woman who told me afterwards ‘I am so happy she can now stay in the country with me’. Then there was the young man who was dressed in an ill-fitted suit, tie and shiny shoes and kept wiping tears from his eyes. After the ceremony he sought out every other person to shake their hand and say ‘congratulations on your citizenship’.
So what does having a passport mean to me? It’s not a straight forward answer.
When I embarked on this journey towards a UK passport it was simply a means to an end. I wasn’t ready to return to Australia, I wanted to keep my options open with the ability to work in Europe and I wanted to join the short queue at Heathrow. I also wanted to return to Australia whenever I could. Yes, I wanted it all – I was greedy!
When I stood at the ceremony I realised it had become so much more. I had called the UK my home for 12 years and I was proud to be able to call myself British. I feel a connection to the UK, it has played a big part in shaping who I am and has provided me with endless opportunities from a personal, career and travel point of view. But unlike some of the others at the citizenship ceremony, I can hold dual citizenship – becoming a UK citizen did not require the ‘deletion’ of my Australian past. An interesting pub conversation had always been “if you had to give up your Australian passport, would you do it?”
And I never had to think long before I answered ‘no.
Dual citizenship means different things to different people.
Do you hold dual citizenship? Would you take a second citizenship if it meant giving up the citizenship of your birthplace?