Australian Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said that foreigners migrating to Australia for love won't be barred from attaining permanent residency if they do not pass the new English language competency test. But they have two years to make "all reasonable efforts" to learn the language through free English classes.
This comes after the new test received criticism from members of the Labor Party who called the not-exactly-new requirement "cruel" to people who do not come from an English-speaking background. English-speaking ability is already required for the skilled migrant stream.
Tudge clarified the facts at a virtual multicultural media conference on Oct. 9 where he said that migrants don't need to speak English to come to Australia. Migrants generally come to Australia on short term visas—the partner visa being one example—and after two years they become eligible to apply for a permanent resident visa.
"In that time, we expect them to have taken advantage of the free English language classes and made all reasonable efforts to learn English," Tudge said.
The degree to which migrants come to speak English was "not the issue," Tudge said. But he reiterated that the ability to speak English at a "functional level" would better enable migrants to Australia to participate in society.
"We want people to have a real go trying to learn English before they put their application in and demonstrated they've had a proper go, then that visa will be granted, as long as the other checks are assured as well."
Andrew Miles, the Labor opposition multicultural affairs minister, has characterised Tudge's latest comments as a "backflip" on the issue.
"Putting unfair hurdles in the way of people seeking partner visas, and singling out people who do not come from an English-speaking background, risks increasing feelings of isolation that some new arrivals to Australia feel."
Workplace labour and health and safety laws currently prevent migrants who do not speak English from getting a job as soon as they arrive, Tudge said.
To help migrants learn English, the Morrison government removed limitations on the number of free English language classes that migrants can access earlier this year. English competency can be demonstrated through the completion of 500 hours of free English language classes through the Adult Migration English Program (AMEP).
Tudge said he was dissatisfied with the quality of some of the current English language providers who only provided activities for students and said the government would require providers to place greater emphasis on outcomes going forward.
Almost 1 million people in Australia don’t speak English well or at all, a number which has grown sharply in the last decade.
Migrants that don’t speak English well enough or at all are at increased risk of family violence and other exploitation and are less likely to know how and where to seek help, Tudge said.