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Last week when Mona, an Indian national called up the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to enquire about submitting her citizenship application, she was told she would have to take an English test.
She said she was told the department would inform her when she has to sit the test.
On April 20 this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an overhaul of the citizenship law, proposing to introduce a stand-alone English language test and increasing the waiting time from one year to four years for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship, among other measures.
While the bill is in parliament and faces a staunch opposition from the Labor Party, the DIBP is staring at a massive backlog of citizenship applications piling up as all applications filed on or after 20th April are to be processed under the new criteria, which will only happen after the law is passed.
The DIBP currently has over 81,000 citizenship applications at hand and more applicants are sending in their applications.
“The Department currently has more than 81,000 applications on hand, and will continue delivering the Citizenship program over the coming months while new arrangements are settled,” a spokesperson of the DIBP told SBS Punjabi.
Currently, the department is advising applicants that new requirements of increasing the general residence requirement, including an English language test, Australian Values Statement, Pledge of commitment and integration into the Australian community will apply to them as the application was received after 20th April.
According to the department, the standard timeframe for processing 90 per cent of citizenship applications is 13 months.
The new law- The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 was introduced in the lower house of the parliament on June 15.
Labor says the new law is “designed to create a new class of second-class Australians”. The party is opposing a stand-alone English language test and the increased waiting period for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship.
Labor frontbencher and Shadow Minister for Citizenship, Tony Burke said the department should process citizenship applications under the current law.
“Labor intends to make sure that this law does not pass the parliament. That means at some point the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will have to start processing the applications that are in,” Mr Burke told SBS Punjabi.
Labor is accusing the government of setting the English bar too high for citizenship applicants. However, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton clarified last week that citizenship applicants are not required to sit the Academic International English Language Testing System exam which is a requirement for university admission. The government wants prospective Australian citizens to score a 6 Band score on the General IELTS exam which is acceptable for immigration purpose.