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Government 'flexible' about changes to citizenship English test: Dutton

Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton Source: AAP

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he is "flexible" about changes to the English test in the proposed citizenship legislation after NXT's opposition to the law in its current form.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has for the first time conceded that the government is willing to consider changes to the English test in the proposed citizenship legislation which requires migrants to prove they have competent English proficiency.

Mr Dutton told Sky News that he is “flexible” when asked whether he was prepared to change the English test which, according to the government’s current proposal, requires a Band-6 score on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for migrants to be Australian citizens.  

Earlier this month, the Nick Xenophon Team announced it wouldn’t back the government’s legislation in its current form, calling it a veiled attempt to cut immigration numbers.

With the Labor and Greens already opposing the citizenship changes, securing support from NXT is critical for the government to pass the legislation.

Mr Dutton said he has had a “constructive” dialogue with the independent Senator from South Australia, Nick Xenophon to find a solution to the imbroglio.

However, NXT has said the Government will have to go back to the drawing board and that it would need to rework more aspects of the legislation than just the English requirement.

“There are so many components of this whole package that are a problem,” the NXT senator Stirling Griff told Guardian Australia. “Peter Dutton needs to go back to the drawing board.”

Besides the English-language requirement which the opposition deemed “University-level English”, the Government’s legislation will make migrants wait longer before they are able to apply for citizenship. It also seeks to give powers to the Immigration Minister to overrule decisions of AAT in matters of citizenship.

However, Peter Dutton has denied the proposed English test is University-level which, he argues, is Academic Module of IELTS test that is different from the General Module required for immigration purposes.

Affected migrants have been organising protest meetings and meeting politicians across Australia to lobby against the bill. They are worried it would make Australian citizenship a pipe dream for many new migrants.

A Pakistani migrant, Abdul Rahim who wants to get his brother to study in Australia, says he will not be a citizen until 2026 under the new law.

"If he comes today, He'll pass uni in 2020, adding two years of TR comes 2022, Then He'll get PR lets say in 2022 the latest. Then He'll be eligible for Citizenship in 2026. In the meantime, He would have paid thousands of dollars in tax and around 60-80K Fees," he says. 

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