Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper yesterday welcomed immigration reforms that could ease his path to Australian citizenship as he linked the changes to his last-gasp heroics against South Africa on Sunday.
New Zealand-born Cooper has been denied Australian citizenship four times, despite moving to the country as a teenager and playing 71 Tests for the Wallabies.
The situation, which Cooper has previously described as “awkward,” was thrown into sharp relief when he earned Australia a thrilling win over world champions the Springboks on Sunday.
After four years in the international wilderness, Cooper nailed a 40m penalty after the hooter to seal a 28-26 Rugby Championship victory, in which he kicked 23 of Australia’s points.
The 33-year-old believes that his performance generated enough pressure to force officials in Canberra to change their stance.
“Probably without playing that game, it wouldn’t have come to fruition,” he told reporters in the wake of an announcement about revised citizenship requirements for “exceptional” candidates.
He thanked members of the public and opposition lawmakers who campaigned on his behalf, saying that he was eager to finalize the paperwork as soon as possible. “I’ll be truly grateful to get that sorted.”
The problem arose because Cooper recently played two seasons in Japan, meaning that, under existing rules, he had been out of Australia too long to qualify for citizenship.
The Papua New Guinea-born Will Genia faced a similar situation, despite playing 110 Tests for Australia.
Australian Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke yesterday said that he was making it easier for talented candidates to gain citizenship.
While he did not mention Cooper directly, Hawke said that the reforms included easing the residency requirements that have hampered the player’s application.
“Exceptional people must not be prevented from becoming Australians because of the unique demands of the very work they do that makes them exceptional,” he said.
Hawke said that the changes would apply to candidates such as athletes, business leaders, scientists and distinguished artists.
Cooper said that his move to seek citizenship was prompted by border restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To not know if I was able to come back to my home and see my family was quite a daunting feeling when you’re living in Japan,” he said.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan welcomed the move, saying that “if you play for this country, I think you deserve to get citizenship.”
Asked whether Cooper’s standout effort against South Africa had helped his cause, McLennan told ABC radio: “I don’t think it hurt.”
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