Australian Human Rights Commission opposes citizenship changes

The federal government is threatening to revoke a WA council's power to hold citizenship ceremonies. (AAP)

The AHRC says many Australia-born citizens would not have the level of English proficiency being demanded by the proposed law.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has said the government’s proposed citizenship changes may send the wrong signal about Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration policy and that there has to be a compelling case for the government to contemplate these changes.

The commission, in its written submission to a Senate Committee looking into the proposed citizenship legislation, has said that Parliament should not pass the proposed law in its current form which seeks to increase the waiting period for migrants before they can apply to become citizens and requires them to demonstrate a “competent” English proficiency.

The commission said if the proposed changes become a law, tens of thousands of new migrants every year will be unlikely to meet the English proficiency level required for citizenship during the first decade of their settlement.

“Many Australia-born citizens would not possess a written or spoken command of English equivalent to this standard,” the Commission said in a written submission to a Senate Committee suggesting the government, rather than increasing the English requirement, should strengthen literacy support for migrants and humanitarian entrants.

Many Australia-born citizens would not possess a written or spoken command of English equivalent to this standard.

The Commission said extending the waiting period for after permanent residency to four years from current one year poses a risk of creating an “unreasonable distinctions” between different groups of migrants on the basis of “criteria which do not accurately reflect their level of commitment and contributions to Australia”.

The Government has argued that extending the general residency period strengthens the integrity of the citizenship program by providing more time to examine a person’s character as a permanent resident in Australia.

The Commission said this change could make some those applicants who arrived on temporary visas to wait twice as long as those who arrived on permanent visas. It questioned why an overall stay of four years isn’t sufficient for those who arrived as temporary residents.  

How many times will I need to prove my English proficiency. Do they think my level of English has gone down after studying and staying in Australia?

The proposed changes have caused a massive outcry among the migrant communities, many lobbying different political parties to vote against the bill, decrying the sudden change in the criteria for citizenship.

“Why is this repeated English competency test forced on us?" questions Jagdeep Singh who scored 7 bands in his IELTS test before arriving in Australia as a student. "How many times will I need to prove my English proficiency. Do they think my level of English has gone down after studying and staying in Australia?”

The Commission members appeared before the Senate committee on Wednesday and outlined their concerns about the changes proposed in the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017.

The race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane said the proposed law posed a risk of sending a signal negative signal which could deter people from taking Australian citizenship.

The proposed law seeks to give the Immigration Minister powers to overrule the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in matters of granting citizenship. The minister already has the right to overrule the tribunal’s visa-related decisions.

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