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Will Australian citizenship requirements change in 2019?

Source: AAP

The Australian Government has been trying to introduce changes to the Australian citizenship law that would make permanent residents wait longer and require evidence of their English proficiency before they can apply for citizenship.

The Australian Government announced an overhaul of the citizenship law in April 2017 when it proposed a standalone English language test and increased the waiting period for permanent residents before they would become eligible to apply for citizenship. But despite considerably diluting the proposed changes owing to the opposition from other political parties, the law couldn’t be passed so far.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year listed the citizenship Bill for  “introduction and passage” in the Spring sittings.

However, the Government did not bring the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill for discussion in parliament.

Earlier in October 2017, the legislation was struck off the Senate notice paper when the Australian Greens moved a motion against it.

Proposed changes

Under the initially proposed changes, the government wanted migrants to prove competent English proficiency by securing at least 6 bands on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam in order to be eligible for Australian citizenship. After the debacle in Senate, the government scaled down the English requirement to ‘moderate’, or 5 bands on IELTS.

Changes have also been proposed in the general residence requirement. Currently, migrants who have lived in Australia for four years with at least one year as permanent residents can apply for citizenship. However, the government wants to increase the period of stay as a permanent resident to minimum four years regardless of the time spent in Australia before acquiring permanent residency.

Labor, Greens and some crossbench senators are staunchly opposed to some of the proposed changes, particularly the introduction of a stand-alone English language test.

Former Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge told SBS Punjabi in June 2018 that the government was still “consulting” about the key elements of the citizenship legislation. However, he said a “primary school-level, conversational” English test could be introduced instead of IELTS.

“What we are going to be looking at is some sort of conversational level of English, may be of primary school level,” said Mr Tudge.

“We haven’t settled on the precise formula and we would still like people to have that level of English before they become citizens,” he said adding that the general residence requirement was also under consideration.

However, the question of English testing hasn’t been settled so far.

Mr Tudge’s successor, the current Minister for Immigration and Citizenship David Coleman told SBS Punjabi in October that the matter was still under consideration.

"Some level of English is good for migrants as well as for the country," said Minister David Coleman to SBS Punjabi. "I'm currently considering what level that should be at."

Mr Coleman did not comment on when the Bill would be brought for a debate in Parliament.

The Government had first retrospectively implemented the changes in April 2017 and reversed those after the Bill was removed from Senate notice paper in October 2017. The Department of Home Affairs then said the changes would be implemented in July 2018 with the passage of the law.

Greens’ Immigration spokesperson Nick McKim said the Government failed to bring the Bill for discussion because it didn’t have the numbers in the Senate.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested last month that the federal election won't be until May 2019, but SBS News reported that the most likely dates for the federal election could be the 11th or the 18th May 2019. 

There will be just three Senate sittings if the election is held on 11th May and seven sittings if it's on the 18th.

With Labor and Greens' intransigent position against any changes in the general residence and English language requirements and the Central Alliance yet to be convinced on the key elements of the Bill, the Government would need almost all the crossbench senators to pass these changes through the upper house. 

Pauline Hanson’s citizenship Bill delayed

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s Bill that sought to make migrants wait eight years before they apply for Australian citizenship has been delayed.

Ms Hanson introduced a proposed law in Senate last year that was referred to a Senate committee that was due to give its report on 4 December 2018. However, that committee is now due to return with its findings in March this year.

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