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Citizenship relief in sight for migrants with Nick Xenophon pulling support

Senator Nick Xenophon Source: AAP

Nick Xenophon Team Senator Stirling Griff claimed government's citizenship changes were aimed at cutting Australia's immigration without making an announcement about it.

The proposed citizenship changes seeking to make migrants wait longer and prove tougher English proficiency may not become a law after Senator Nick Xenophon’s party decided to pull support, Fairfax Media reports.

"We will not be supporting the bill's passage through the Parliament," Fairfax Media quoted Nick Xenophon team Senator Stirling Griff as saying.

He said the government’s plan is about fixing the problems that don’t exist.

"We're a nation built on migration and the envy of the world when it comes to a harmonious multicultural society. The system isn't broken, there's no need for it to be repaired," he said.

Senator Griff sat on a Senate inquiry into the proposed citizenship changes, and has authored a report opposing most elements of the package.

Many migrants whose citizenship dream had been in a limbo after the April 20 announcement are welcoming the development. 

Jiten Sharma who has been in Australia for nearly ten years would have been able to apply for his Australian citizenship on April 26 this year. But the sudden announcement of new rules on April 20 put brakes on his citizenship application. 

"It's not just a passport or a certificate, my life and that of my family are hinging on this. One can't get certain jobs, execute certain long-term plans just because I am not a citizen. But, I am happy if the new law isn't going through finally. otherwise, it would have been so unfair," he told SBS Punjabi.

 The proposed changes that have passed the House of Representatives seek to increase the waiting period for permanent residents for four years, up from the current one year before they can apply for Australian citizenship. The proposed law will require migrants to prove they have a competent level of English by achieving a Band6 score on the International English Language Testing Systems (IELTS).

The Labor and The Australian Greens have already declared they would not support the government’s proposal on citizenship changes. NXT’s support was crucial for the government to get it to pass the Senate which now seems unlikely.

Senator Griff claimed the changes were an attempt to cut Australia’s immigration to half without actually making a formal announcement about it.

Following the announcement by NXT, Labor called on the Government to drop the proposed legislation. 

"Citizenship is about who we are as a nation and these proposed changes are a direct attack on Australia as a modern multicultural country," said Shadow Minister for Citizenship Tony Burke. 

Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane told a Senate inquiry investigating the proposed changes last month that the new law posed a risk of sending a signal negative signal which could deter people from taking Australian citizenship.

If the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 doesn't pass the Senate, the government may have to withdraw it and go back to the drawing board.

The proposed law would also have a new values test, to check where migrants stand on child marriage and domestic violence.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has said the changes would help people integrate with broader society.

“Australian citizenship should be highly valued, and the government’s changes will ensure that it is a privilege obtained by only those who’ve demonstrated the most sincere commitment to Australia, our values and respect for our laws, as it should be," Mr Dutton said last month.

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