New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship and related commentary

Clearly responding to concerns of the right, and a reflection that immigrant voters play a less important role than in Canadian elections, with the result of fewer immigrant and visible minority MPs:

Australia plans to raise the bar for handing out citizenships by lengthening the waiting period, adding a new “Australian values” test and raising the standard for English language as part of a shake up of its immigration program.

The move comes in a week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced axing a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replacing it with a tougher program in a bid to put “Australia First”.

Australia has seen the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration politics with far-right wing parties such as One Nation garnering strong public support, while the popularity of Turnbull’s ruling center-right government has been languishing.

The new citizenship requirements are expected to be passed by parliament with the backing of right-wing Senators.

On Thursday, Turnbull said basic English would no longer be sufficient to become an Australian citizen under the new test.

Applicants need a minimum level 6.0 equivalent of the International English Language Testing System, and a person will only become eligible for citizenship after four years as a permanent resident, up from one year.

“What we are doing is strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our values,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. “Australian citizenship should be honored, cherished. It’s a privilege.”

“I reckon if we went out today and said to Australians, “Do you think you could become an Australian citizen without being able to speak English?” They’d say, “You’re kidding. Surely you’d have to be able to speak English.”

Turnbull said the current immigration process was mainly “administrative” while the citizenship test largely a “civics test.”

The current citizenship multiple-choice questionnaire tests a person’s knowledge of Australian laws, national symbols and colors of the Aboriginal flag. But Turnbull said it was not adequate to judge whether a person would accept “Australian values.”

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence…is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen? Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions?”

The new citizenship test will include questions about whether applicants have sent their kids to school, whether they go to work – if they are of working age – and whether becoming part of unruly gangs in cities were Australian values.

“We’re standing up for Australian values and the parliament should do so too,” Turnbull said.

Source: New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship | Reuters

And predictable expressions of concerns (valid) from groups who work with refugees and other vulnerable groups:

Refugees would be hit hardest by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, the refugee council says, with people deterred from applying for citizenship or potentially failing the test under new English language requirements.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues older refugees, and those who’ve arrived from conflict zones with disrupted educations, would find the strengthened English requirement hardest.

“While the overwhelming majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants are children and young people who typically learn English quickly, those brought to Australia as refugees include some older adults, torture survivors and people with disabilities who struggle to master English. These are the people who are most likely to miss out on citizenship under the changes being planned by the government,” the RCOA chief executive, Paul Power, said.

“The sad irony is that people who have come to Australia as refugees value the freedom and security associated with Australian citizenship more highly than any other group in the nation.”

Power said the proposed changes to the citizenship test would not achieve what the government has said it is aiming to do.

“No extremist or terrorist is going to be unearthed by a few questions about values. But the person who will struggle will be the 45-year-old Sudanese mother, who has come to Australia as a refugee, who has had a disrupted, if any, formal education, and is struggling in adulthood to learn a fourth language.”

Department of Immigration and Border Protection statistics reveal refugees apply for citizenship at a higher rate than any other migrant group. But they also fail the test at a far higher rate – refugees have a failure rate of about 8.8% , six times the rate of 1.4% for other categories of migrants. On average, a refugee needs to attempt the citizenship test 2.4 times, double the average for all migrants of 1.2 times.

…Citizenship already has a “basic” English test requirement, that will be strengthened to a “competent” level assessed by an independent, accredited organisation.

Henry Sherrell, researcher at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said the proposed new English language requirement would be a serious barrier to citizenship, particularly for refugees and people in Australia on family visas or the spouses of skilled migrants.

He said the proposed new English level, the equivalent English proficiency of some university entrance requirements, was too high.

“Migrants want to learn English. They want to work. However, not every single newcomer to Australia is in the position to achieve this level of English. This represents a fundamental change to citizenship in Australia with enormous consequences.”

In 2008, one of Australia’s most senior diplomats, Richard Woolcott, reviewed the citizenship test, which had only been introduced the year before. He found it was “flawed, intimidating to some, and discriminatory” and needed significant reform.

“Alternative and improved education pathways to acquire citizenship need to be established for different categories of people seeking citizenship.

“The special situations of refugee and humanitarian entrants and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking citizenship must be addressed.”

The test underwent minor changes in 2009. The citizenship test currently has exemptions for people aged over 60 or with significant disabilities. A government discussion paper on the proposed citizenship test changes, released on Thursday, mentions these exemptions and indicates that they will continue.

Refugees already in the country face substantial – in some cases illegal – barriers to becoming citizens.

More than 10,000 potential citizens who have completed all the requirements for citizenship, including passing the test, and are awaiting only a ceremony to confer citizenship.

The government revealed in court there were 10,231 people who had qualified for citizenship who were living in limbo unsure, when, if ever they would be granted citizenship. Some had been invited to ceremonies only to be told by text message the night before that they would not be made citizens.

Source: Refugees will be hardest hit by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, experts say

And from those from English speaking countries (valid, but more than a touch of superiority):

Ian Sinkins, a British electrical engineer in Australia on a temporary skilled class 457 visa, has a serious beef with Australia’s proposed new citizenship requirements.

The changes, announced by the Turnbull government on Thursday, would require aspiring citizens to sit an English-language test, prove a commitment to Australian values and live in the country for four years as a permanent resident, instead of one.

“We’re being tarred with the same brush … [the plan] doesn’t differentiate where people have come from,” Sinkins told Guardian Australia. “We’re from a Christian background, we speak English, and there’s the shared heritage between Australia and England. And yet we have to take an English-language test, to prove certain things that are kind of obvious. It’s unsettling.”

On ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull explained that the longer residency requirement “means there is more time to integrate, to be part of the Australian community”.

Turnbull said it was “in [migrants’] interests” to learn English, adding “they can maybe take longer before they make their application to be an Australian citizen”.

On Friday the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said speaking English was desirable “because it makes it easier for people to find work … to speak to their neighbours, to turn up to the local footy club or be involved in their church or mosque or whatever”.

But Sinkins, his wife Lisa and two children, who arrived in Australia two and a half years ago, have experienced no such difficulty. He said they have easily settled into their new life, love Australia’s culture, its work ethic and people.

Lisa Sinkins’ uncle and aunt came to Australia more than 50 years ago as “10 pound Poms” and she has first and second generation Australian cousins. “There is no recognition of such background history in the existing or planned changes to the visa and citizenship regulations,” she said.

Lisa is a head practice nurse in a Melbourne clinic, while Ian works at a German renewable company specialising in energy storage and has set up a local company which is growing to the point it will soon employ local engineers.

But with the planned changes, the family face an uncertain future as it will now take a total of eight years – four on the temporary work visa and a further four as permanent residents – to become citizens.

“We question the wisdom of extending the time on permanent residency from one to four years … for citizens from countries such as the UK that clearly have shared values,” he said.

And Sinkins and his family aren’t alone. Of the 95,758 people in Australia on a 457 visa, 19.5% are from the UK, behind India on 24.6%, to mention just one visa class among many that provide a pathway to citizenship.

Sinkins said Australia could be missing out on skilled and motivated people and families, who may rethink their current aspiration to become Australians and make the nation stronger.

“We are now wondering if we are really welcome in Australia with so many obstacles and changing goalposts … we are even now considering whether we should return to the UK,” he said.

Source: ‘Obviously we speak English’: Brits complain about Australia’s new citizenship crackdown

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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