Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the Federal Government is considering changes to ensure all permanent residence applicants, including dependent partners or family members, can meet English requirements at least at a primary school level before being granted permanent residence.
The Government is considering a range of options, from mandatory language classes to a new customised English language test to apply to all permanent resident applicants. The change is being considered in light of recent figures released by Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge, which show 820,000 permanent residents in Australia have little or no English capability in 2016 – an increase from 300,000 in 1981. The term ‘little or no English capability’ has however not been practically defined. According to ABC News, Mr Tudge believes the ‘concerning situation’ is due to existing English requirements for dependents on permanent residence visa applications.
Sheila Woods, Registered Migration Agent at Interstaff however emphasised that dependents on a skilled visa application, such as partners, children or extended family members, are already required to provide evidence of English language proficiency or otherwise pay a hefty $4,800 fee, which entitles them to English training classes.
Ms Woods explained, “There are already mechanisms in place to assess the English skills of dependent applicants for a permanent residence skilled visa. The question is whether the Government will be looking to introduce more rigour around these mechanisms.”
Ms Woods cautions against raising restrictions on skilled visa dependents, saying it may detract overseas talent from choosing Australia as a destination to contribute their skills if they are unable to migrate with their dependent family members.
Applicants for permanent residence via a family visa could also be impacted if the Government decides to begin testing their English skills. Currently, people applying for a Partner or Parent visa for example, are not required to pass an English test, however this may change as the Government considers introducing English language requirements for all new permanent residence applicants. The social implications of not being able to reunite with a partner or parent because of their English skills however would be significant.
Mr Tudge said the Government is determined to ensure migrants do not become isolated in “parallel communities” and unable to integrate with society due to a lack of a common language. He said, “English acquisition is not just in the interest of our nation, but in the interests of individual migrants as well.”
Are the changes likely to be passed as law?
Plans to introduce mandatory English standards for all new permanent residents have been backed by the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull. However, the idea to introduce mandatory English requirements for all new permanent residents has been criticised by the State Coalition figure heads. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard believes migrants shouldn’t need to be able to speak English when they first arrive. Mr Hazzard tweeted, “This policy will cut out some potential great contributors to our nation.”
Deputy premier John Barilaro also cautioned against putting too much emphasis on migrants’ ability to speak English. He said, “I think when you’re looking at the type of people that are coming to this country, it has to be based on the contribution that they can make.”
Any changes will need to be passed by parliament although it is worth noting previous citizenship changes requiring migrants to speak English at a university-level were blocked in the Senate last year due to viewpoints similar to the above. However, as a primary-school level of English is now in question it will be interesting to see whether the changes will be passed into law.
Interstaff will keep you updated on any legislative changes to permanent residence visas. To find out more about the mandatory English requirements for Citizenship which were rejected last year read our article here.
Are you eligible for Australian permanent residence?