The Cable

Australia Announces Citizenship Exam Will Now Test ‘Values’

‘Australia First’ immigration policies gain steam ahead of Mike Pence’s visit.


Ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit on Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced big changes in the country’s immigration process.

For one thing, migrants will be required to live in Australia for four years — not one, as currently — before they can apply for Australian citizenship. For another, Turnbull said on Thursday, the citizenship examination will be redone so as to raise the standard of English language proficiency.

It will also add a component that tests whether the applicant displays “Australian values,” asking questions like whether applicants send their children to school, or have jobs.

“Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions?” Turnbull asked, later adding, “What we are doing is strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our values.”

Turnbull’s maternal grandparents came from England.

Just two days before, Turnbull announced Australia would change the way in which it hires foreign workers, scrapping a visa program that allows highly-skilled workers to apply for permanent residency after four years, and putting in place a new system that is “manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest” so as to put “Australia first.”

Though 98.6 percent who sat the citizenship test in 2014-2015 did indeed pass (including re-sits), the Australian immigration program is hardly known for its leniency. Would-be migrants often end up in offshore detention centers that human rights groups describe as “prison-like.”

But as in so many countries around the world, anti-immigrant sentiment has mushroomed in recent years, as far-right parties like One Nation have become increasingly popular. One Nation, likely the more recently founded Australian Conservative Party, claimed credit for the decision to scrap the visa program for highly-skilled workers.

Of course, Australia has been grappling with questions over immigration and refugees for years. And like in most other countries around the world, the Australian public is massively confused over how many people are actually seeking asylum and how they do it — which creates political pressure for tough solutions to often imaginary problems. (The recently departed John Clarke and his erstwhile comedy partner tackled immigration on several memorable occasions.)

The Obama administration reached a deal with Australia to resettle some asylum seekers, a pact Trump promptly tried to blow up in his first phone call with Trumbull. So there won’t likely be any pushback from Pence on Canberra’s immigration changes. Rather, Trump has pointed to Australia as a model for immigration.

Photo credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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