Older Refugees Have Most To Lose From Citizenship Changes
20 April 2017 at 3:10 pm
People brought to Australia under the federal government’s refugee resettlement program have the most to lose from planned changes to the citizenship process, according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said the tougher English language requirements and the restrictions on the number of times an applicant can sit the citizenship test would most likely result in fewer former refugees seeking citizenship and more failing in their attempts to become citizens.
“The sad irony is that people who have come to Australia as refugees value the freedom and security associated with Australian citizenship more highly than any other group in the nation,” Power said.
“People who have experienced persecution and oppression have a much greater understanding of the importance of Australia’s freedom and democracy than those of us who have always lived in a free society.
“Some refugees are stateless and all others have lost the effective protection of their state of citizenship. It means so much to be welcomed to Australia and many people in this situation want to demonstrate their thanks to their new homeland by taking up citizenship as soon as possible.”
Power said that for decades, refugee and humanitarian entrants had sought citizenship at higher rates than any other category of migrants.
“However, this wish to become an Australian citizen has been undermined by a citizenship test process which sees much higher failure rates for former refugees than applicants who have come on migration visas,” he said.
Power pointed to Department of Immigration and Border Protection statistics that show that in 2014/15 the citizenship test failure rate for refugee entrants was 8.8 per cent, six times higher than the average of 1.4 per cent. The average number of citizenship tests attempted by refugee applicants was 2.4, double the average.
He said a 2008 review of the citizenship test, led by retired ambassador Richard Woolcott, warned against a testing regime which was intimidating and discriminatory.
“The review highlighted the importance of special consideration for refugee and family migration entrants who have had disrupted or limited formal education and are struggling to learn English as adults,” Power said.
“While the majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants are children and young people who typically learn English quickly, those brought to Australia as refugees include some older adults, torture survivors and people with disabilities who struggle to master English. These are the people who are most likely to miss out on citizenship under the changes being planned by the government.”
Govt changes to visas & citizenship play into the politics of division & exclusionhttps://t.co/HcdAFWjG75
— @VinniesAustralia (@VinniesAust) April 20, 2017
Proposed changes to Citizenship Test is a return to the dark days of the White Australia Policy. These policies belong in museum not 2017.
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) April 20, 2017
The prime minister announced the policy changes on Thursday saying he would “strengthen Australian citizenship by putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements”.
“Our reforms will ensure applicants are competent in English, have been a permanent resident for at least four years and commit to embracing Australian values,” Turnbull said.
“Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be granted to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia.
“We must ensure that our citizenship program is conducted in our national interest.”
The reforms will include:
- requiring all applicants to pass a stand-alone English test, involving reading, writing, listening and speaking;
- requiring applicants to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (instead of one year at present);
- strengthening the citizenship test with new questions that assess an applicant’s understanding of – and commitment to – shared values and responsibilities;
- requiring applicants to show the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community, with examples including evidence of employment, membership of community organisations and school enrolment for all eligible children;
- limiting the number of times an applicant can fail the citizenship test to three (at present there is no limit to the number of times an applicant can fail the test); and
- introducing an automatic fail for applicants who cheat during the citizenship test.
The government said the new requirements would apply to all new applications for Australian citizenship.