SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia plans to raise the bar for handing out citizenships 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 programme.
The move comes in a week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced axing a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replacing it with a tougher programme in a bid to put “Australia First”.
Australia has seen the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration politics with far-right wing parties such as One Nation garnering strong public support, while the popularity of Turnbull’s ruling centre-right government has been languishing.
The new citizenship requirements are expected to be passed by parliament with the backing of right-wing Senators.
On Thursday, Turnbull said basic English would no longer be sufficient to become an Australian citizen under the new test.
Applicants need a minimum level 6.0 equivalent of the International English Language Testing System, and a person will 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 honoured, 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.”
Turnbull said the current immigration process was mainly “administrative” while the citizenship test largely a “civics test.”
The current citizenship multiple-choice questionnaire tests a person’s knowledge of Australian laws, national symbols and colours 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?”
The new citizenship test will include questions about whether applicants have sent their kids to school, whether they go to work - if they are of working age - and whether becoming part of unruly gangs in cities were Australian values.
“We’re standing up for Australian values and the parliament should do so too,” Turnbull said.
Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Michael Perry