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Australia's citizenship test to get tougher under new changes
Last Updated: 2017-04-20 09:28 | Xinhua
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It will be tougher for migrants to become Australian citizens under sweeping changes to the nation's citizenship test, announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday.

Applicants will be required to demonstrate that they adhere to "Australian values," speak "competent" English and will need to have been a permanent resident for at least four years before applying to take the test, in a significant tightening of the requirements for citizenship.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Turnbull said that it was more important than ever that Australians from any background, race, and religion "buy in" to Australian values, such as mutual respect and equality.

"There is no more important title in our democracy than 'Australian citizen.' And citizenship, that institution must reflect Australian values," Turnbull said.

"We're not defined by race, religion or culture, as many other nations are. We're defined by commitment to values. Democracy, freedom, mutual respect, equality for men and women ... these fundamental common values are what make us Australian."

"Our citizenship process should reflect that, so today we are announcing changes to strengthen citizenship to make for a stronger Australia."

Turnbull said the current test did not require applicants to speak "competent" English, something he described as a "vital requirement" for citizenship.

"We all know that the key to successful integration into the Australian community, to economic success and social success, is being able to speak English, so it's a very important change," Turnbull said.

"We need to ensure that our citizenship test enables applicants to demonstrate how they've integrated into and engaged with our Australian community."

"Does anybody doubt that if you want to succeed, if you want to even have a chance of succeeding in Australia, you need to be able to speak English?"

Under the changes, prospective citizens will need to have been a permanent resident for four years (up from 12 months), will need to pass an English test at the "competent" IELTS level 6 equivalent, and provide evidence that they are integrating into society, such as by producing tax payments, employment records and schooling records for children.

Also part of the changes, a questionnaire will crack down on "inappropriate" attitudes such as domestic violence, violence against women, forced marriages and female genital mutilation.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who masterminded the changes, said the government and Australians should "not be ashamed" to expect that prospective citizens adhere to "Australian values."

"I don't think we should be ashamed of saying that we want people who are going to abide by the law, people who are going to pick up Australian values, still honor their heritage, but when you're in Australia you abide by Australian laws, you abide by our values," Dutton said on Thursday.

"At the same time we want people to honor and respect their heritage and their culture, the country from which they've migrated, but once you're here and once you seek Australian citizenship we do very clearly want you to be part of our team and we want you to be abiding by laws, we want you to be adopting Australian values and integrating into Australian life."

Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs Zed Seselja added that the changes would not only benefit Australia as a community, but those seeking citizenship, by motivating them to learn English and assimilate into society.

"If you can't communicate with those around you it makes life so much harder, so this has benefits not only for us as a nation, but has benefits for those we are assisting and attempting to integrate," Seselja told Sky News on Thursday.

Meanwhile the Labor opposition's spokesperson Jim Chalmers said his party was not consulted on the changes and admitted he would like to know more before passing judgment.

"We'd like to know more of the details. We want to make sure they're well motivated changes," Chalmers told Sky News.

"I think a lot of Australians would be deeply skeptical of the Prime Minister's motivations in the general area, whether it be citizenship or on (the recently scrapped) 457 skilled migrants visa)."

The citizenship announcement comes just days after the government announced it was scrapping the nation's skilled migrants visa in favor of two new visas with additional requirements.

The government said skilled migrants should only be brought in to "fill gaps" in the workforce, and should not be given work at the expense of Australian workers.

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