Changes to partner visa requirements, flagged in the federal budget, have provoked a mixed response from those dealing with immigration in Perth,
Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia president Suresh Rajan opposes the requirement.
He says comfortable community integration through immigration services is more important than the ability to speak English.
“There is nothing suggesting visa applicants should be proficient at the level [the government] is suggesting in the changes,” he says.
He says the government has no basis to imply that the only people Australian citizens and residents can marry are English speakers.
Mr Rajan says the government is well behind in processing partner applications, with a waiting time of around 27 months to three years.
He says a requirement for English proficiency will delay visa approval and potentially separate a couple when they should be allowed to live together in Australia.
He says studies by the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australian have shown immigrants took five to seven years on average to fulfil their 500 hours of English lessons.
He says a multicultural, multilingual Australia is important instead of a visa requirement resembling the White Australia Policy.
Mr Rajan says he would prefer if the government taught immigrants Australian history, especially what Indigenous Australians did for the community, rather than impose an English proficiency test.
“That will provide better integration into the community, rather than have an English test to see whether people can speak [English],” he says.
He says he would like the government to provide free English classes, but ensuring immigrants don’t lose their first language is important.
EMD migration agent Melanie Douglas says she supports the English proficiency requirement, since she believes it will benefit Australian communities and be applied fairly.
“There are almost 1 million people living in Australia with poor or no English, [yet] language skills [are] necessary to finding work and staying safe,” she says.
She says it’s unclear whether there will be another option if applicants or their sponsors cannot provide evidence of English competency, or take 500 hours of English language classes.
Ms Douglas says another point of uncertainty is whether there will be exceptions for people who had English education or have passports from English-speaking countries.