Foreigners seeking a permanent partner visa in Australia will have to pass an English test, the country’s government plans.
The controversial prerequisite, if approved by parliament, would apply to applicants from mid-2021.
It would require them and their partners – who must be permanent residents – to reach a certain level.
Critics have called the change “discriminatory”, but the government says it will build “social cohesion”.
“We will require an applicant and a sponsor to have met functional level English or to have at least made reasonable efforts to learn English,” Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said.
In recent years, Australia’s conservative government has called for prospective migrants to face mandatory, rigorous testing on their English language skills.
More than one-fifth of Australia’s population speaks a language other than English at home, with the figure above 35% in the largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
Why has the government announced this?
Mr Tudge said there were about one million people living in Australia with poor or no English skills, which he argued limited their work and social skills.
He said the new changes would also help protect vulnerable immigrants from controlling partners.
“In some cases, the husband will not want his partner or wife to learn English. And in part that’s for control reasons,” he said.
He said “reasonable efforts to learn” would constitute an applicant taking about 500 hours of English classes which would be available under a free government programme.
What’s been the reaction?
The Labor opposition said the partner visa changes “take us back to the 1950s”.
“English proficiency isn’t a test of someone’s love,” said Andrew Giles, shadow minister for multicultural affairs.
Couples facing the partner application process have told local media the requirement is an “additional burden” to the existing two-stage application process.
Currently there is a two-year waiting period for permanent partner visas, and applications start from A$7,715 (£4,260; $5,500).
About 40,000 visas were granted in 2017-2018 according to the most recent figures, and there were double that number in pending applications.
The new requirement has also sparked public criticism in a nation where over 300 languages are spoken.
Australia is forecast to see its first drop in net overseas migration since World World Two due to the coronavirus pandemic.