New English language requirement a hark back to White Australia Policy?

The changes suggest additional hurdles for those hoping to become Australians.

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There is dismay and anger in Australia’s multicultural community at the government’s recent announcement regarding new language requirements for Partner visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors.

New partner visa applicants and permanent resident sponsors will be required to have ‘functional level English’.

Applicants will need to be able to demonstrate this through the completion of 500 hours of free English language classes through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP).

The changes will come into effect in late 2021.

indian partners

In the changes announced for the Permanent Migration Program, 72,300 places have been allocated to partners (an increase from 37,118 places last year). The fear now is that it will prioritise applicants and sponsors from English-speaking backgrounds.

The new rules, the government has indicated, are intended for the safety and easy assimilation of New Australians, and to maximise their opportunities in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday as he spoke to multicultural media, “Being able to learn English in Australia is a vital tool for social and economic inclusion. English is a necessity for all Australians who are looking to engage and participate. It’s also very important for people’s safety particularly for women in our community, to ensure that they can be aware of what their opportunities and rights and protections are in this country.”

The Prime Minister did clarify that “a basic level of English language competency” is sought, to  “enable people to engage, to access government services for example, to engage with those who are seeking to assist, to access and get the best possible medical treatment, to understand what teachers are saying at school, at parent teacher conferences or to understand their rights at work. We think it’s a very necessary skill and ability that people will need to get the best out of life in Australia and to be protected.” 

The multicultural community, who the Prime Minister thanks for their economic contribution every time he speaks to them, is not buying in. Some are going as far as claiming it reeks of the White Australia Policy, seeing these changes as discriminatory.

Pino Migliorino of Cultural Perspectives, a leading research, communications and consultancy provider that specialises in Australia’s diverse communities, expressed his concerns on ABC Radio. He said there seems to be a divide between permanent residents and Australian citizen migrants, as permanent residents will have to undertake the competency tests along with any sponsored spouse visas.

He also stressed that the 500 hours of English study, while free, is draconian for new migrants as they struggle to work and set up their life in Australia.

Deputy Labor Leader Kristina Kenneally has slammed the government on this new announcement, claiming it will further delay the already backed up partner visa processing.

couple holding hands

“Visa applications have been piling up in the Department of Home Affairs and the processing time for 90 per cent of partner visa applications was an astonishing 27 months as of 30 July,” she said in a press release. “Couples have been forced to put their lives on hold for close to two and half years as they wait for the Morrison Government to process their partner visa applications.”

She added, “Is the Morrison Government trying to force Australians to choose who they fall in love with or marry based on their English language skills?”

The new English Language requirement for spouses substantially complicates the Migration Act 1958, which allows spousal visas to be given fairly easily (as per section 83) – changing this will take a substantial amount of the parliament’s sitting days given its controversy.

Given the 2016 Census indicates that Australia is becoming increasingly monolingual, with 500,000 more English-only households than 2011 during a time where there was a 181% increase in demand for bilingual skills in the workplace, there is an obvious clash that further restricting non-English language skills will not fix. 

The Prime Minister said of the Federal Budget 2020 that it is the most important since World War II. One of the growth factors for Australia post World War II was the strong migration to this country. This time round, will Australia miss out on a huge resource pool as it looks to rebuild, coming out of a crippling pandemic?

READ ALSO: Why Australia needs more migrants

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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