In recent years, the Federal Government has proposed and introduced measures to raise the minimum English requirements for new migrants and those applying for Australian citizenship. Is there an underlying objective behind all of this?
English is not designated as an official language in Australia but in practice, it is the national language of Australia. Figures from the Census of Population and Housing in 2016 indicates that English is the only language spoken at home by 72.7% of Australia’s population. A further 17.4% of people in Australia who spoke another language at home, also reported being able to speak English well or very well. The number of people who reported that they did not speak English well or at all increased from around 560,000 in the 2006 Census to almost 820,000 in 2016.
Changes to English language requirements
Many argue that knowledge of written and spoken English is essential to social cohesion and integration in a multicultural Australia. Others have gone further and called for stricter English language requirements for immigration and citizenship applications. The Federal Government heeded some of these calls by introducing the following measures in the past 18 months:
- On 20 April 2017, new measures came into effect for people seeking to become Australian citizens. These measures included a minimum requirement for competent English skills (IELTS score of at least 6 in each component). However, the proposed legislation related to these changes did not pass through Parliament and citizenship requirements reverted to those in place prior to 20 April 2017.
- From 1 July 2017, all new 457 visa applicants (except for citizens of the UK, US, Ireland, Canada and NZ) are required to meet minimum English skills requirements. Previous exemptions for sponsored 457 visa applicants on a salary of $96,400 or more were removed.
- From 1 July 2017, all new permanent employer sponsored visa applicants (subclass 186 or 187) are required to have competent English skills, where previously they were required to have vocational English skills.
- From 18 March 2018, applicants for the new TSS 482 visa employed in an occupation on the Medium to Long-Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) are required to have a minimum IELTS score of 5 in each component - slightly higher than the minimum requirements for the abolished 457 visa.
Permanent migration trends
An interesting fact to note is that in the past 20 years, the United Kingdom has been overtaken by India and China as the top source countries for permanent migrants to Australia. The table below outlines the top 5 source countries of permanent migrants to Australia from 1997 to 2017.
Top 5 source countries for permanent migrants (1997-2017)
Some say that tougher English language requirements will benefit migrants from English speaking countries and disadvantage those from non-English speaking countries. It's worth considering whether the Federal Government's measures are designed to genuinely foster social cohesion or if they are an attempt to appease those who are concerned about the increasing number of migrants from non-English speaking countries.
What are your thoughts? Are the recent Government’s measures necessary or are the current English language requirements adequate to integrate migrants into Australian society?
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