Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tightened Australian citizenship rules in a further crackdown on immigration as his government seeks to boost its flagging popularity.
Applicants will have to wait four years before applying for citizenship instead of one currently, prove a higher degree of proficiency in English and pass a citizenship test to show they have “Australian values” and can integrate into society, Turnbull said Thursday.
The move comes two days after the government announced a tightening of temporary skilled migration visas, amid claims employers were abusing a program now used by almost 100,000 foreign workers.
“We must ensure that our citizenship program is conducted in our national interest,” Turnbull said in a statement. “Membership of the Australian family is a privilege and should be granted to those who support our values, respect our laws and want to work hard by integrating and contributing to an even better Australia.”
Turnbull, whose Liberal-National government won re-election last year with a narrow majority, is seeking to counter the rise of fringe populist parties that have capitalized on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment that has also spread through the US and Europe. The former banker faces delivering a budget next month that will highlight the nation’s economic challenges amid high unemployment and weak wages growth.Coffers are Bare
“These new laws are about trying to keep traditional coalition supporters from turning to the far-right parties,” said Haydon Manning, a political analyst at Flinders University in Adelaide. “Turnbull will be aware that he doesn’t have much to offer voters in the budget because the coffers are bare, so this is a way he can show that he’s still thinking about them and addressing their concerns about jobs and security.”
Applicants for citizenship will only be allowed to fail the test three times and must show evidence of employment, membership of community organizations and school enrollment for their children. Prior criminal activity, including violence against women and children and gang involvement, will be considered in the citizenship process, Turnbull said.
The changes will need support from rival lawmakers to be legislated, with Turnbull’s coalition lacking a majority in the upper house Senate.
More than 130,000 people from about 210 countries become Australian citizens each year. Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott is among conservative backbench lawmakers calling on him to slash immigration.Turnbull Trails
The opposition Labor party leads the ruling coalition by 53 percent to 47 percent, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on April 3. Only 30 percent of voters were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance, the survey showed.
The new temporary skilled migration visa announced on Tuesday restricts workers to two years in the country, from the current four, and reduces the number of skills that qualify. Applicants will need a higher standard of English and undergo a full police check, while labor market testing will be required to show it’s necessary to hire someone from offshore.
Some industry groups have criticized the changes, with the Australian Mines and Metals Association saying the current visa system has alleviated job shortages and should not be “leveraged for cheap political point-scoring.”
“Overhauling a responsible skilled immigration policy that has proven highly responsive to labor demand and supported nation-building projects is hardly the type of ‘big picture’ policy thinking that will address Australia’s pressing employment and economic challenges,” the association said in an April 18 statement.