New citizenship law to come before parliament this week

Australian Citizenship Source: AAP

The new laws if passed by the Australian parliament, will completely overhaul the country's citizenship process.

On April 20th, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a surprise announcement to make changes to the Australian citizenship test. 

This week Federal Parliament will have the proposed changes to the citizenship law brought before it which include having a tougher Australian values quiz to prove applicants have integrated into the society.

Vivek and Neha Gupta are among those who are likely to be affected by the changes. Having arrived in the country as permanent residents, they may have to wait longer to get their citizenship certificates. They will also be required to prove their English proficiency once again.

"We sat the English language test just two years ago as part of the process for our skilled migration to Australia, and we will have to do it again," says Vivek. 

"It costs a lot of money, and to do it on the same thing over and over again is frustrating," he says.

Under the proposed changes, prospective Australian citizens will have to wait for four years after acquiring permanent residency, up from one year.  They are also expected to demonstrate competent English language proficiency.

Several online petitions, asking for the reversal of the announcement, have been started since the proposed changes were announced.

But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the plan to introduce a more stringent English language test has received overwhelming public support since the concept was flagged in 2015.

"All of the research demonstrates that if people have the higher capacity, higher ability in terms of speaking and writing and listening and reading the English language, then they have a better opportunity to succeed whether it's at school, in the workplace or in society."

Mr Dutton says the changes are needed because Australians are living in a different age than they were less than a decade ago. 

"I think it just highlights the need for us to make sure that we are granting citizenship to the right people, people that are going to work hard, are going to educate their children, are going to create a great life here in Australia, which is a great migrant story of our country."

But the representative body of the multicultural communities in Australia, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) is opposed to the introduction of a stringent language test.

"Australia is a country of immigration and forever we've not only received people but allowed them to work and contribute regardless of their linguistic background. I know thousands and literally thousands of older Australians now who don't speak English well who've made an enormous contribution," says Pino Migliorino of FECCA.

Among the laws to be brought before Parliament is one granting power to Immigration Minister to overrule the Administrative Appeals Tribunal so that if it gives citizenship to someone despite a ruling from the Immigration Department, he can override it.

The Immigration Minister already has the power to override the AAT’s decisions related to visas but not in relation to the grant of citizenship.  

Labor is yet to decide whether it will back the law change.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh has told Sky News the party is waiting for the government to reveal the legislation before deciding how it will vote.

"When we see the detail of this we'll work it through but I think Peter Dutton is largely interested in his own power plays and less interested in the details of legislation. If he wasn't he would be public about the consultations and he would have given Labor a copy of the legislation weeks ago."

The government will need Labor and the crossbench on-side, because the Greens have already labelled it xenophobic and unfair.

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