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'A step in the wrong direction': Concern about proposed citizenship changes
Monday 7 August 2017

The federal government’s plans to radically change the requirements to become an Australian citizen have been criticised by businesses, human rights groups, lawyers and academics around the country.

The strict changes to the Citizenship Act and Migration Act were flagged in April by the Turnbull government.

The Prime Minister said citizenship is a privilege and the changes were necessary in the interest of national security and strengthening Australia’s multicultural character.

The draft legislation includes proposals to: extend the wait for permanent residents to four years (instead of one) before they are eligible to apply for citizenship; require most applicants to have a ‘competent’ instead of ‘basic’ proficiency in English; and enforce a new citizenship test, a pledge of allegiance to Australia and requirement to display Australian values.

Peter Dutton presents citizenship amendment bill

‘Two classes of permanent residents’

There are also concerns the extended permanent residency requirement will make Australia a less attractive business destination.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, led by former US ambassador, submitted to the inquiry that skilled American migrants would be put into ‘limbo’.

“I think it's a step in the wrong direction,” Chamber CEO Niels Marquardt said.

“The changes that have been announced really moves in the direction of making Australia somewhat less welcoming. I think that's a mistake because Australia, like the United States, is definitely a country whose success has been built on a welcoming and selective immigration policy.”

The Chamber proposed a grandfathering arrangement where those already undertaking the citizenship process are exempted from the new requirements.

“There probably should be some exemptions for different categories. I mean, a small subset of this group of people who are caught in limbo include really high value add potential migrants to Australia.”

Matthew Amoils, Director at corporate immigration firm ASG Immigration, said the changes could create two classes of permanent residents.

“Whether intended or unintended, consequences of the proposed changes now are that, for many people, it's going to be a minimum of six to eight years before they can become citizens, or are eligible to apply for citizenship,” he said.

“We don't think that does anything that benefits Australia or creates social cohesion.”

He too pointed to the extended waiting period becoming a potential drain on the flow of skilled migrants to Australia.

“In certain cases, high-level jobs require security clearances that can only be given to Australian citizens and we have a couple of clients in that position,” he said.

“They were expecting to be able to apply for citizenship within the next six months and then apply for top-level security jobs and that rug is going to be pulled out from under their feet.”

The same exemptions for the English requirements will also apply to the permanent residency proposal.

This article was written by Myles Morgan and Hashela Kumarawansa for SBS News. The full version is available here