Australia to raise English language standard for citizenship
A man leaves the Department of Immigration and Border Protection offices in Sydney, Thursday, April 20, 2017. Australia plans to tighten its citizenship rules to require higher English language skills, longer residency and evidence of integration such as a job. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, April 20, 2017 5:53AM EDT
CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia plans to tighten its citizenship rules to require higher English language skills, longer residency and evidence of integration such as a job, officials said Thursday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new citizenship test would reflect Australian values instead of the current multiple-choice format.
"This will be good for the applicants, good for the nation, underlining our Australian values at the very heart of Australian citizenship," Turnbull told reporters.
"This is not about administration. This is about allegiance and commitment to Australian values," he added.
Budding Australian citizens would have to be competent English language speakers and have been permanent residents for at least four years. Currently a permanent resident can become a citizen after one year.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there would be greater police checks on citizenship applicants and perpetrators of domestic violence should be disqualified.
Applicants would have to show the steps they had taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community. Examples would include evidence of employment, membership of community organizations and school enrolment for all eligible children, a government statement said.
The public will be able to make submissions until June on how Australian values might be tested. Then the proposals must be approved in Parliament.
Activist group GetUp accused the conservative government of adopting the policies of the anti-Muslim minor political party One Nation through the new test.
"It accuses all immigrants ... of not adhering with some confected notion of Australian values," GetUp human rights director Shen Narayanasamy said in a statement.
"The announcement implicitly accuses people who want to live in Australia of being more likely to abuse their wife, not learn English, and engage in crime. It's deeply offensive to generations of people who have built their lives here," she added.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said his centre-left Labor Party would consider supporting the changes in the Senate where the government does not hold a majority of seats.
"I think it is reasonable to look for English proficiency and I think it's reasonable to have some period of waiting time before you become an Australian citizen," Shorten said.
But Shorten said Turnbull had been forced by the most conservative elements of his government to propose the changes.
Pauline Hanson, leader of the One Nation party, said Turnbull was "finally acting on the suggestions I made to him about the citizenship test."
Australia has long had high rates of immigration, with one in four Australians either born overseas or with at least one parent born in another country.