Australian partner visa hopefuls 'freaking out' after English language test announced

Prospective migrants to Australia applying through the partner visa program will have to undergo a mandatory English language test under new measures announced in this week's federal budget.

Melbourne woman Amelia Elliott and her husband Bowie Domingo.

Melbourne woman Amelia Elliott with her husband Bowie Domingo, who had to fly to Singapore to have his visa granted. Source: Supplied

Sydney-based Daniel Lakeman's Colombian fiancée Karen Sanclemente already has a partner visa to get into Australia, but due to the country’s border closures she hasn’t been able to get a flight over.

With that visa due to expire in December, the couple will need to apply for a new one, only this time there may be an added complication.

In Tuesday’s federal budget, the government announced a new English language test for anyone applying for an Australian partner visa.

Mr Lakeman, 24, said Ms Sanclemente's English was "fine", but depending on the level the test was set at, the 28-year-old may struggle to pass.

“It depends on how difficult they want to make that test; if it’s basic to intermediate she would do okay, she speaks fine, but the grammar is a bit of an issue for her,” he told SBS News. 

“It sucks that we have been given a visa already and now we have to reapply with these new conditions attached as well.” 

Daniel Lakeman with his Colombian fiancée Karen Sanclemente.
Daniel Lakeman proposing to his Colombian fiancée Karen Sanclemente. Source: Supplied

The number of partner visas on offer this financial year will rise to 72,300 places, up from fewer than 47,000 the previous year. But organisations such as the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia are worried some people will be locked out.

“We are concerned that some of the English language requirements will mean that some partners will not be able to be reunited with their loved ones if they don’t have good enough English,” FECCA CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaji said. 

Amelia Elliot has been waiting for two years for a partner visa for her Filipino husband Bowie Domingo to be able to join her in Melbourne. She runs a Facebook group for people in similar situations.

She says many of those in the group have been “freaking out” about Tuesday’s announcement.

Amelia Elliot and her husband on their wedding day.
Amelia Elliot and her husband on their wedding day. Source: Supplied

“The provision, on the whole, is an absolute attack on people who have formed relationships with those from non-western, non-English speaking countries,” she said. 

“English language skills take time to master, this is unprecedented for the Australian government to do this. They are basically saying if you are from a non-English speaking country you have to reach a certain proficiency before you can even be with your partner.” 

SBS News sent questions to the Department of Home Affairs about when the new test would begin and what level of English would be required but has not yet received a response.

At a multicultural media briefing on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the test would ensure prospective partner visa holders were able to independently access government and health services and seek help when needed. 

“I am very aware that lack of English language skills, particularly amongst partners, has put many of those partners at risk in Australia," he said, reported  and

“At risk of domestic violence, at risk of being abused in the workplace, and having their rights overtaken.” 

“I don’t want to see people who come to Australia to be vulnerable. And if your English language skills are not strong or non-existent, then you will be more vulnerable in Australia." 

He added that the test would be a "much more basic level of English language competency" than is required for "economic migration", which is understood to mean the skilled visa scheme but was not clarified. 

Labor’s spokesperson for Multicultural Affairs and Assisting for Immigration and Citizenship Andrew Giles said the government needed to understand the impact the introduction of the test would have. 

“It’s come about without any context ... and it seems to reflect an understanding of Australian society that’s anchored in the past, that doesn’t recognise the multicultural nation we are today,” he said.

How do partner visas work?

The partner of an Australian citizen can apply for a partner visa either onshore or offshore with fees in excess of $7,000.  

Those who lodge an application in Australia are eligible for a bridging visa to remain in the country during the processing time, which for 90 per cent of onshore applications is currently 26 months. 

Offshore applicants must wait out their processing time in their home countries.

Mr Giles said while it was welcomed that the government had raised the overall number of visas on offer, the English language test may put a brake on the uptake of the visas.

“I really don’t see how the standard of anyone’s English language proficiency is relevant to their capacity to form a loving relationship with an Australian,” he said. 

5 min read
Published 7 October 2020 at 2:11pm
By Jarni Blakkarly