Senate inquiry into citizenship changes recommends watering down English test


A parliamentary senate committee has handed down four recommendations on the government’s planned citizenship changes, including lower English language requirements.

In a report tabled in parliament Tuesday night, the committee has suggested a new English language test ‘should not be so high as to disqualify from citizenship many Australians who, in the past, and with a more basic competency in the English language, have proven to be valuable members of the Australian community’.

The committee, chaired by coalition senator Ian Macdonald, found a good understanding of the English language is essential to fulfill the obligations of Australian citizenship, but cautioned against ‘the adoption of a standard that many current citizens could not reach’.

During public hearings the government’s push to require migrants to pass a standalone English test at IELTS Band 6 was widely criticised as too strict and impossible for less-educated new arrivals.

The committee also recommended the government reconsider plans to impose a ban on applications for people who fail the citizenship test three times.

It has suggested additional tests should be allowed on a cost-recovery basis instead, which it believes would still deter less-genuine applicants.

Retrospectivity recommendation

The government’s push to make permanent residents wait four years instead of one before they can apply for citizenship also raised concerns because of it retrospective nature.

The committee has recommended that migrants who were already permanent residents before the Turnbull government’s April 20 announcement be allowed to apply for citizenship under the old rules instead of being forced to wait an extra three years.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton informed the committee that as of mid-July this year there were 47,328 people who would be affected because they lodged their citizenship applications on or after April 20.

It was estimated that more than half - 25,788 - would not meet the new residence requirement.

NXT Senator Stirling Griff on which components the party opposes
NXT Senator Stirling Griff on which components the party opposes

Legislation all but doomed without NXT support

With Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team opposed to the changes, the government will be forced to do a deal to get the legislation through parliament.

In a dissenting report by Labor senators, the English language requirements were labelled ‘unreasonable and snobbish’.

A spokesperson for the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, told SBS World News the government is discussing the bill with the crossbenchers as is normally the case.

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