Australia’s new citizenship crackdown


Malcolm Turnbull's government is moving to the right on immigration
Malcolm Turnbull's government is moving to the right on immigration
Speak English, live our way: Australia's tough new citizenship crackdown

Would-be Australians will face tough new hurdles – including a new English language and “Australian values” test – and have to wait several more years before being eligible for citizenship under a major shake-up of the country’s migration programme.

Migrants could be asked whether they support female genital mutilation and forced marriages, or whether it’s acceptable to strike a spouse at home, under proposed citizenship test questions to be put to the public for feedback.

Applicants will also have to demonstrate they have attempted to integrate into Australian society, providing evidence of a job, enrolment of their children in school, and even membership of community organisations.

Under the current system, migrants enter Australia on a range of visas. They can then become permanent residents but have to wait a further year before applying for citizenship. 

The one-year wait will rise to four years under the redesigned scheme. 

The new measures are the second tranche of changes to Australia’s immigration system in less than a week.

On Tuesday prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and immigration minister Peter Dutton announced the 457 foreign worker visa programme would be axed and replaced by an “Australians first” approach to skilled migration.

The two-step push underscores the government’s shift to the right on immigration and border protection, which has been driven in part by Dutton and other leading conservatives.

They will probably be welcomed by the conservative base of the governing coalition and nationalist parties such as One Nation.

But some sections of Australia’s migrant communities could feel targeted.

The changes will have to pass both houses of Parliament, opening a fresh political fight with the Labor opposition and independent MPs.

Turnbull – who once stated, “Anyone who thinks it’s smart to cut immigration is sentencing Australia to poverty” – said the citizenship changes would put “Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements”.

“Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be afforded to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia.

“We must ensure that our citizenship programme is conducted in our national interest,” Turnbull said.

“Any conduct that is inconsistent with Australian values will be considered as part of this process. Criminal activity including family violence or involvement in organised crime is thoroughly inconsistent with Australian values.”

Dutton said Australians “shouldn’t be embarrassed to say we want great people to call Australia home”.

“We want people who abide by our laws and our values and we should expect nothing less,” he said.

A third tranche of changes is expected and could include the creation of a “provisional visa” class which would tighten access to social security payments.

At present, citizenship applicants sit a 20-question test and must correctly answer at least 75 per cent.

The quiz asks factual multiple-choice questions about Anzac Day, Australia’s system of government and the colours of the Aboriginal flag.

The new quiz will not dump these questions, but “values-based” questions will be added to assess would-be citizens’ understanding of and commitment to “Australian values”.

If a person fails three times, they will have to wait two years before trying again.

A stand-alone English language test examining reading, writing and listening skills will also be introduced.

A permanent resident has most of the same rights as an Australian citizen, though they must have a valid visa with authority to travel if they wish to return to Australia.

They also can’t vote in elections, unless they were enrolled to vote as a British subject before 1984. 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the work visa changes were “already unravelling”, pointing to an analysis that showed just 8.6 per cent of people currently on foreign worker visas were working in jobs that would be excluded under the new system. Dutton disputed that claim.

About 7 million permanent migrants have settled in Australia since 1945.

In 2014-15, 190,000 places were available for permanent migrants in Australia’s immigration programme.


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