Australia plans to raise the bar for handing out citizenship by lengthening the waiting period, adding a new “Australian values” test and raising the standard for English language as part of a shake up of its immigration program.
The move comes in a week when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he was axing a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replacing it with a tougher program in a bid to put “Australia First.”
Australia has seen the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration politics with right-wing parties such as One Nation garnering strong public support, while the popularity of Turnbull’s ruling center-right government has been languishing.
The new citizenship requirements are expected to be passed by parliament with the backing of right-wing senators.
Turnbull yesterday said basic English would no longer be sufficient to become an Australian citizen under the new test.
Applicants need a minimum level 6 equivalent of the International English Language Testing System and a person would only become eligible for citizenship after four years as a permanent resident, up from one year.
“What we are doing is strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our values,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. “Australian citizenship should be honored, cherished. It’s a privilege.”
“I reckon if we went out today and said to Australians: ‘Do you think you could become an Australian citizen without being able to speak English?’ They’d say: ‘You’re kidding. Surely you’d have to be able to speak English,’” he said.
Turnbull said the exisiting immigration process was mainly “administrative,” while the citizenship test largely a “civics test.”
Australia’s existing citizenship multiple-choice questionnaire tests a person’s knowledge of Australian laws, national symbols and the colors of the Aboriginal flag, but Turnbull said it was not adequate to judge whether a person would accept “Australian values.”
“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence ... is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen? Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions?” he said.
The new citizenship test is to include questions about whether applicants have sent their children to school, whether they go to work — if they are of working age — and whether becoming part of unruly gangs in cities are Australian values.
“We’re standing up for Australian values and the parliament should do so too,” Turnbull said.