Planned changes to Australian citizenship heavily criticised by migration agents
There is a danger that the proposed changes to the criteria for meeting the Australian citizenship test may be unattainable for many current permanent residents, according to a submission from migration agents.
The Migration Institute of Australia, which represents migration agents, has submitted a scathing response to the Australian Government’s consultation over planned changes which will make it harder to become a citizen.
It says that many of the changes should be abandoned, such as the current 12-month period of permanent residency required before an application for Australian citizenship can be made which the proposals increase to four years.
The MIA recommends that if changes are made to the Australian citizenship requirements, that transitional arrangements be made for those who have held a permanent resident visa for one year and who previously held temporary visas for at least three years.
It also recommends that the English requirement for citizenship should be set at functional English and that there should be no stand-alone English test while those who have already provided evidence of having the required level of English for a previous visa application should not be required to demonstrate their English language ability again.
'It is difficult to determine the factual reasoning for this proposal to strengthen the Australian citizenship test. The changes appear to be based on opinion, rather than evidence based research,' the report says.
Similarly, the Discussion Paper provides no empirical evidence or lucid reasoning for the proposal to strengthen the Australian citizenship test.
It points out that while integration is a common theme in most of the proposed changes, there is no indication in either the Report or the Discussion Paper that there have been significant issues or problems with the level of civic engagement and integration and social cohesion in Australia to date.
'It would appear that strengthening the Australian citizenship test represents a shift away from incentivising and motivating migrants to develop attributes that promote participation in Australian society, as the system was designed to do in the past. The focus of these proposed changes and the political rhetoric that surrounds the debate has moved firmly to using citizenship as a civic screening tool and border control mechanism,' it warns.
‘The proposed changes, if enacted, will result in a significant number of people not being able to attain Australian citizenship or having their citizenship delayed. From a public policy perspective, the ultimate concern is the reaction of significant numbers of people currently living in Australia who are affected by these changes,' it adds.
The MIA also sets out that people will end up feeling marginalised and inferior and this could result in a diminution of social cohesion, people losing trust in Australia, its Government, and its immigration bureaucracy. 'Losing whatever sense these applicants may have had of belonging in Australia, does not enhance social cohesion and seems at odds with attempts to improve safety and security in Australia,' the report also points out.
It adds that 'there can be no meaningful difference between the integration of someone who has had four years permanent residence and someone who has had three years residence on a temporary visa and one year on a permanent visa. In fact, many permanent residents have been in Australia for a significant amount of time on temporary visas before obtaining permanent residency'.
It also says that most MIA Members have assisted their clients through the process of obtaining temporary and then permanent visas and they know the genuine desire their clients have to become Australian citizens, and the time, money and effort they have spent to achieve this goal.
'Many of their clients may have made other decisions regarding their immigration if they had known that their ultimate goal of Australian citizenship would take longer than anticipated or in some cases even be unattainable. People expend considerable time and effort at significant financial cost to achieve genuine life goals such as Australian citizenship. They should be reasonably confident that the rules will not change significantly during this time, unless there were some drastic reason of public significance. There is no evidence that such a reason exists for the proposed changes to the residency requirements,' it concludes.