Australia today announced tougher citizenship laws for new applicants, including higher English language skills and longer residency requirement, days after the government scrapped a popular visa programme used mostly by Indians. Under the new reforms unveiled by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the applicants must be permanent residents for at least four years -- three years longer than at present -- and must be committed to embrace "Australian values". The changes would abolish the current system that allows unlimited attempts to pass the citizenship test, imposing a two-year denial if an applicant failed three attempts and an automatic fail for those who tried to cheat the test. Prospective citizens will have to pass a standalone English test that will focus heavily on respect for women and children, with possible questions about child marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence. The test will have questions assessing an applicant's understanding and commitment to shared Australian values and responsibilities, Turnbull said. Apart from this, an automatic fail for applicants who cheat during the citizenship test has been introduced. Unveiling the changes, Turnbull stressed that Australian citizenship was a "privilege" that should be "cherished". He said citizenship would only be granted to those who support Australian values, respect the country's laws and "want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia". "Citizenship is at the heart of our national identity. It is the foundation of our democracy.
We must ensure that our citizenship programme is conducted in our national interest," he added. The Australian Prime Minister also stressed that English language proficiency was essential for economic participation and integration into the Australian community and social cohesion. "Any conduct that is inconsistent with Australian values will be considered as part of this process," he said. "Criminal activity, including family violence or involvement in organised crime, is thoroughly inconsistent with Australian values." Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there will be greater police checks on citizenship applicants. "Our government has stopped boats, got kids out of detention, cancelled visas of criminals, closed down Labour's dodgy 457 programme and now we are modernising the pathway to citizenship," he said. "Our country shouldn't be embarrassed to say we want great people to call Australia home. We want people who abide by our laws and our values and we should expect nothing less," Dutton said. There will be a new requirement to provide documentation that people who can work are working or in education, are complying with welfare access, and are "properly paying taxes". Applicants from today will be required to have been Australian residents for four years instead of only 12 months and would be required to have spent no more than 12 months in total out of the country during that time. The public will be able to make submissions until June on how Australian values might be tested. Then the proposals must be approved in Parliament. The move comes after Australia announced it would abolish the popular 457 work visa used by over 95,000 foreign workers -- a majority of them Indians -- to tackle the growing unemployment in the country and replace it with a new programme requiring higher English-language proficiency and job skills. The programme allows business to employ foreign workers for a period up to four years in skilled jobs where there is a shortage of Australian workers. The majority of the visa holders under this category were from India, accounting almost a quarter of the intake, followed by the UK and China at 19.5 per cent and 5. 8 per cent respectively, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)