The introduction of an English-language application for Australian partner visa applications in 2021 has left prospective migrants cheated and migration agents mixed up after the sudden change was included in the federal budget of recent weeks.
Labor advocates, multiculturalists and demographers have criticized the decision as unfair and reminiscent of White Australia Politics, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison describing it as both pro-migrant and pro-Australian.
Interim Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the changes would improve social cohesion and ensure that more migrants are able to find work in Australia, with further details of the application to be announced over the next few months. Here is what we know so far:
English language requirements already exist for some visas
The migration system in Australia can be mainly divided into five groups: visitor visas, humanitarian visas, study and training visas, family and partner visas, and work and skilled visas.
Study visas and capable streams already have some level of English language requirement, which varies depending on the visa within the river for which you are applying.
For example, a training visa (subclass 407) requires the applicant to have functional English (we will return to what this means in the next section) while someone applying for an Employer Nomination Scheme visa (subclass 186) must have competent English.
For some visas, partners or dependents of the lead applicant will also have to complete an application in English or pay additional fees, up to $ 9,000 in some cases, instead of completing the application.
Citizens of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Canada and New Zealand are not required to take a test to prove that they speak English.
Functional, professional, competent, capable, or superior?
There are five levels of English language proficiency, starting with functional English and moving up through professional, competent, capable and then superior.
Prospective migrants may choose to take one, or more, of the five international tests offered by various external companies to test their skill level.
They all test their listening, reading, writing and speaking skills, but differ slightly in their delivery, such as whether they are a physical exam or an online exam.
The tests for all levels are the same, but the higher the level, the higher the minimum score required on each component.
Applicants can take the test as many times as they need to get the result they need, but will have to pay for each test. A session of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), for example, costs $ 355 for an exam that lasts just under three hours.
Test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL), another option accepted by the Australian government, similarly costs around $ 300 for just over three hours.
John Hourigan, national president of the Australian Migration Institute, the top body representing migration agents, says that achieving success already on an English language test when applying for an application is usually a prerequisite for a migration agent to take a case .
If they come to me, I tell them to go take the English test and come back. Without proof, we can do nothing for them, they can not apply, he said.
How well would you do in the test?
As mentioned above, the government accepts English test results from a variety of providers, all with different questions. However, they test the same skills; reading, listening, writing and speaking.
Reading skills are tested by providing a text – such as a product announcement, an event description, or a page from a book – and asking prospective migrants to answer a series of short questions based on the information provided. A question about reading the practices offered by the UK based IELTS provider can be seen below.
For the listening component, an audio song of a conversation between two people is played and, similar to the reading part, the test takers are asked to complete an answer sheet based on what was said.
A practical IELTS question for this section shows an audio recording of a telephone conversation between a workshop at a shipping company and a customer hoping to send a box. Upon hearing, the examinee is required to complete a hypothetical booking form with the details presented in the call.
The writing component tests two different types of written communication; practical writing, such as a letter or document, and an essay arguing a point of view.
In IELTS practice questions, respondents are asked to write a letter to their university or local library manager in less than 150 words. The essay question asks the respondent to answer a quick query – for example, “why is shopping so popular?” – with at least 250 words.
To test speech, people are asked to introduce themselves and talk to the examiner after receiving a certain request, such as the most interesting part of your city? or how long have you lived here?
The process is quite difficult, said Mr. Hourigan, who is also a registered migration agent.
People who come from isolated, remote communities, they are often illiterate in their own countries, generally will not cross it.
What will the new partner visa application include?
The Department of Home Affairs will not yet release all the details of how the changes will work, with consultations to be held with key stakeholders in the coming months.
We know the application will require that partner visa applicants and their sponsors (an Australian permanent resident or a citizen) have a ‘functional’ level of English or be able to demonstrate that they have made a reasonable effort to learn English.
SBS News understands that this can be demonstrated by completing classes through the Australian Migrant English Program (AMEP) or by attending an English-language educational institution, suggesting that not everyone will need to take one of the above tests.
Mr Tudge last week gave an example of how efforts could be demonstrated would be completing 500 hours of AMEP classes. Free classes are available at each Australian state and territory and from distance education.
Importantly, the application will not be included in the partner’s temporary visa (subclasses 309 and 820) and will only need to be completed in the permanent residence phase (subclasses 100 and 801).
Applications for temporary and permanent partner visas are usually made at the same time, with the temporary visa allowing the applicant to stay in Australia long enough for a decision to be made on their permanent visa or until the application is withdrawn.
The changes will be introduced by the end of 2021 and apply only to new partner visa applicants, which means that those who have already submitted an application will not be affected.
SBS News also understands that the requirement will not apply to people on humanitarian visas wishing to bring their family members to Australia.
There will also be exceptions for people in compelling and compassionate circumstances, such as if someone has a learning disability.
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