Australian Defence Force recruitment to be opened to foreign citizens, as armed forces search for workers

 Foreign citizens with permanent residency in Australia will soon be able to serve in Australia's armed forces, as part of an effort to boost sluggish recruitment.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is facing a shortage of about 4,400 workers.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said expanding applications to include eligible permanent residents was "essential" to meeting Australia's security challenges in the years ahead.

From July, New Zealanders who are permanent residents and have been living in Australia for at least a year before applying will be able to join the ADF.

Applicants must also not have served in a foreign military in the preceding two years, and be able to attain citizenship.

From January next year, citizens from other countries who meet the same criteria will be eligible, so long as they meet the required security checks.

The government has put a focus on recruiting people from other Five Eyes nations (Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom as well as New Zealand), but Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said the change would enable all eligible permanent residents to apply.

"From 1 January next year any permanent resident in Australia who has been here for at least one year as a permanent resident has not been in a foreign defence force of any type in the preceding two years and meets all of the usual security and vetting and character requirements of joining the [ADF] would be able to apply," he said.

He added once people had served in the ADF for at least 90 days they would be eligible for Australian citizenship, and would be expected to apply to become Australian citizens

Two army personnel stand on a boat, looking out at the water.
The ADF is short about 4,400 workers.

Mr Keogh said the recruitment would target people who already had "loyalty" to Australia.

"We do need to grow the defence force," he said.

"We're talking about recruiting from people that have already made a decision to become Australians, in that they have already taken up permanent residency, therefore they are already on a pathway over time, if they wish to, to become an Australian citizen.

"This isn't taking people out of other countries."

Kiwi interest — but New Zealand Defence Force not worried about poaching soldiers

Mr Keogh hoped the change would lead to an extra 350 people joining the force annually — an increase from the current foreign transfer program, which sees about 70 people join the ADF each year.

The government has attributed that expected increase to significant interest from New Zealanders living permanently in Australia. Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said the move highlighted the government's "failure" to recruit and retain personnel.

"We should be seeing more Australians have the confidence to sign up," Senator Birmingham said.

"Why don't people have the confidence to sign up and wear the uniform with pride? Because of a dysfunction in defence policy that has been mired in review after review after review."

New Zealand's Defence Minister Judith Collins said she did not expect the move to affect their own ranks.

"Given the eligibility criteria the Australian Defence Force has put in place for New Zealanders to join, including that people have to have lived in Australia for at least a year and cannot have served in a foreign military for at least the two previous years, I do not see this as having a direct impact on current NZDF," she said in a statement to ABC News.

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