Ever since the joint announcement by the Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection on 20 April 2017 on tightening the requirements for Australian citizenship by conferral, many stakeholders, including prospective applicants, were left scratching their heads. This is because despite no laws passing to ratify these changes, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship advised on their website that subject to this legislation, these changes would retrospectively apply.
This strengthening of Australian citizenship by conferral was to implement results of previous consultations with the Australian community, conducted in 2015 and 2016, by way of, among other things:
- Increasing the residency requirements as a permanent visa holder from one to four years,
- Requiring applicants to achieve a minimum score of a stand-alone English test,
- Requiring applicants to demonstrate integration and contribution to the Australian community.
Amid much media coverage and debate, the proposed bill was referred to the Senate Legislation Committee, who tabled its report today.
The report contains four recommendations to the Government:
- Clarify the much-discussed English language test with regard to the competency of English for past applicants who have become valuable members of the Australian community,
- Reconsider the two-year ban on applicants who fail the citizenship test three times, and consider other arrangements for cost-recovery to deter disingenuous applicants,
- Consider introducing transitional arrangements for those who held permanent visas on or before 20 April 2017, and
- That the Senate passes the bill.
There were dissenting reports from opposing parties.
Perhaps more interesting, were some revealing statistics:
- As of 16 July 2017, it was estimated that 25,788 (54 per cent of a total of 47,328) applications lodged on or after 20 April 2017 would not meet the proposed residency requirement,
- Residency requirements in comparable countries were generally five years (New Zealand, United States of America, France, the Netherlands) but as high as nine years (Denmark),
- At least seven million Australians were below the IELTS 6 level according to figures obtained in 2012–13,
- Subject to a Higher Education Bill currently under consideration, most permanent residents will no longer be entitled to a Commonwealth supported place (which is the current arrangement), which will mean substantially higher fees for these students, however, also subject to this bill, permanent residents will have access to student loans.
The bill is now before the Senate for consideration.