Business groups slam planned changes to Citizenship
The federal government's plans to tighten requirements to become an Australian citizen have been slammed by business groups who say their members are worried migrant workers awaiting permanent residency may leave Australia, rather than wait for citizenship.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in April flagged changes to the Citizenship Act and Migration Act, which are being examined by a Senate inquiry.
The draft legislation includes a number of proposals, including extending the wait for permanent residents to four years, instead of one, before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. It also proposes a new citizenship test and a pledge of allegiance to Australia and a requirement to display Australian values.
Applicants will need a "competent" instead of "basic" proficiency in English. Although the legislation does not spell out what this is, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has previously said English proficiency will equate to level six of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
But Diversity Council Australia's chief executive Lisa Annese said her business members were concerned that the extended permanent residency requirement would make Australia a less attractive business destination. Ms Annese said the retrospective nature of the proposed changes was "deeply unfair".
Combined with the 457 visa changes, it had sent corporates "into a tail spin", since many of the nation's largest companies had skilled workers on major projects whose future was now in doubt.
The Turnbull government was "trying to appeal to sections of the electorate that feel under threat by waves of immigration" as they were losing ground to minor parties. "I don't believe we've seen any evidence that the current program isn't working properly," she said.
Asking potential citizens to wait an additional three years for citizenship might also see skilled permanent residents leave Australia, rather than wait for citizenship. "These people will no longer be able to count their time as temporary residents towards the residence requirement for citizenship," she said.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia's chief executive Niels Marquardt said the government's flagged changes had left business in limbo. AmCham also objected to retrospective legislation and attacked the four-year requirement, saying it would have a "disproportionate" impact on people who did not land in Australia as permanent residents.
With more stringent permanent residency pathways, most US nationals who were eligible to apply for Australian citizenship after a minimum of five years – four years to reach permanent residency, plus one year as a permanent resident – would now have to wait a minimum of eight years.
Spouses and de facto partners of Australian citizens would also have to wait to become eligible to apply for citizenship.
"Extending the time migrants, specifically the life partners of Australian citizens who have already committed to making their lives in Australia, in such a way adds nothing to the process of integration and, if anything, is counterproductive to the overall goals of successful integration, multiculturalism and social cohesion of new immigrants," it said.
While DCA supported all Australians having good English proficiency, Ms Annese said an English language test was not the best way to achieve this.
It was also concerned such a test would have a disproportionate impact on women. As noted by the Refugee Council of Australia submission, women would be impacted since they often faced additional barriers for learning in their home countries, and often were still facing trauma as survivors of sexual violence.
"Australia would have missed out on a great deal of talent if the proposed language test was introduced previously," she said. "We don't want to take that risk with future generations."
She said the council planned to consult with its members on what they felt were "Australian values" and share this publicly.
"The question of 'Australian values' is not something that can be decided by the Parliament without full and public consultation with the people whom those values purport to reflect," she said. "Many groups and individuals feel that this process is about deciding who is not Australian, rather than who is."