Migrants could face conversational English test under new plans
The Turnbull government is considering a new English test for all migrants seeking a permanent life in Australia.
While migrants already conduct a knowledge test in English when applying for Australian citizenship, there has never been a universal language test for everyone seeking permanent residency.
"What we are concerned about is that we have close to 1 million people now who don't speak the English language in Australia," multiculturalism and citizenship minister Alan Tudge told SBS News on Thursday.
"Now that's not in the interests of those individual migrants, but nor is it in the interests of social cohesion."
The minister is expected to outline the policy in a speech in Sydney on Thursday afternoon.
The government already requires English skills for some migrants, but it depends on the visa. Those on skilled visas and student visas are already required to demonstrate language skills, but their spouses and families are not. The family reunion scheme and the humanitarian scheme for refugees do not have English requirements.
The government offers 510 hours of free English lessons for migrants with poor English when they arrive in Australia, but not all migrants take them up.
Labor said it would consider the proposal when the details are released, but shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann said it would be "totally unreasonable to apply an English language test to Australia's humanitarian program".
Refugees often have little or no English when they arrive in Australia, unlike skilled migrants who are sponsored to work in the country.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said leaning English could be a "real struggle" for newly arrived migrants who were juggling work and family life.
"Let's help them and encourage them to learn English, but let's not make this a punitive measure that effectively marginalises people who might be struggling," he said.
The Turnbull government attempted to create a standalone, higher-level English exam for the citizenship test last year, as part of a sweeping reform that included a new test on "Australian values" and longer residency requirements.
The bill was eventually defeated in the Senate, with Labor, the Greens and many on the crossbench opposed to the tougher English requirements, which would have been pitched at around the IELTS 6 standard.
Mr Dutton said the government would reattempt the citizenship reforms this year, suggesting the government may lower the English requirement from IELTS 6, described as "competent", to IELTS 5, described as "modest".
But Mr Tudge confirmed the government is actively considering making its own English test focused on conversational skills, rather than relying on international standards.
Source: SBS NEWS