Government should consult on English language visa requirements

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan has called on the Australian Government to ensure that new English language partner visa requirements are developed in consultation with key community stakeholders.

Commissioner Tan said the inclusion of this policy in the budget came as a surprise to key stakeholders in the multicultural sector and a lack of information about the policy had created justifiable concern among members of the Australian community.

“I support a government position that promotes and encourages all migrants to Australia to acquire English, but where there is a policy that enforces and sanctions the rights of partners under the Partners Visa to remain in Australia based on their English proficiency, then that requirement may be unfair and may unjustly affect the rights of partners,” Commissioner Tan said.

The federal government announced changes last week that would require new partner visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors to have functional level English or to demonstrate they have made reasonable efforts to learn English. The proposed visa requirements would affect multicultural families seeking to settle in Australia permanently from late 2021.

“It is particularly concerning if the requirement has the effect of serving as a marriage segregation policy that determines who Australians should enter into relationships with based on race, culture and nationality.

“Achieving a functional level of English is a complex process influenced by many factors, and the part race, culture and nationality can play in this process must be carefully considered and taken into account if the proposed requirement is to be applied without discriminatory results,” Commissioner Tan said.

Commissioner Tan also noted concerns about the requirement that sponsors from non-English speaking backgrounds must take language tests despite already being legally entitled to live in Australia.

Commissioner Tan called on the Australian Government to ensure that any policy requirements are designed to help new migrants feel welcome and are properly supported to settle in the Australian community.

“Social cohesion is more than just language, it is about a sense of belonging. As a successful multicultural country, it is important that Australia supports all citizens and permanent residents to fully access community services and supports regardless of their language proficiency. It is vitally important that this access is facilitated in a non-punitive manner,” Commissioner Tan said.

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