Four-year wait to be Aussie

 by Nicolette Burke

 MIGRANTS will have to wait at least four years before becoming Australian citizens under a Federal Government proposal expected to be announced today.
They will have also have to take an English language test – and failure would stop them becoming Aussies.

The measures are expected to be listed in a discussion paper to be released by parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb.

Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday the English language requirements feature “prominently” in the package.

“I am keen on everybody learning the English language as soon as possible,” he said. “It is absolutely essential.”

The Daily Telegraph understands the proposals also include an increase in the waiting period for people to become citizens from three years to four years.

The requirement was last year raised from two to three years, in an attempt to contain the home-grown terror threat. At that time, then citizenship minister John Cobb said the longer migrants spent in Australian society before gaining citizenship, the less vulnerable they were to “falling in with extreme groups”.

He said the extra time would allow migrants to “get a job, make mates and go to the pub”.

A Federal Government source yesterday told The Daily Telegraph there had been high-level discussions about upping the eligibility requirements from three to four or even five years.

He said there was likely to be public consultation but there would be a short time-frame for people to voice their concerns.

Mr Robb has been working on the proposal since April, when he said knowing the date of the Melbourne Cup was a cultural value that everyone hoping to become an Australian citizen should know.

The English language component was flagged by the Prime Minister as he called on all Muslims to learn English to better integrate into society.

“Integrating means accepting Australian values, it means learning as rapidly as you can the English language if you don’t already speak it,” Mr Howard said.

His comments won support from several prominent Muslim leaders and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Currently, all permanent skilled migrants must have vocational English, but there are exemptions for areas of acute skills shortages and temporary migrants.

Skilled migrants – who make up about 70 per cent of all immigration – are all tested before being granted a visa. The remaining 30 per cent, generally refugees, family reunion or family members of skilled migrants, have no English requirement.

They are being offered taxpayer-funded English courses but only 62 per cent turned up for classes in the past year.

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