Rush for citizenship to beat tougher test
The Age (Melbourne)
May 26, 2007
PLANS for a tougher citizenship test have prompted a surge in applications from people trying to beat its introduction, likely to be in September.
Citizenship applications across Australia last month were 44 per cent higher than for April last year. In Victoria, the number rose by more than 60 per cent.
Immigration sources said the numbers were continuing to run high in May, with applications for the current financial year having already exceeded totals for the full year 2005-06.
Since plans for the test were first mooted in September, applications have climbed by 26 per cent nationally and by more than 31 per cent in Victoria.
One official from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship described the figures as “amazing” in a briefing this week with migrant and refugee group representatives in Melbourne.
The rush to apply coincides with a continuing debate over the merits of the new test, which will involve a questions on Australian history, traditions and values. The cost of applying for citizenship will also double, to $240.
The Federal Government plans to introduce legislation revamping the laws in the current session of Parliament, with those applying for citizenship after September 1 likely to have to sit the new test.
It also emerged this week that the Government would allocate $29 million over five years for a public information campaign to advertise the new provisions. This would be on top of two recent advertising campaigns that have promoted citizenship, generally, as a means of maintaining Australia's “national identity”.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the increased numbers were pleasing. “Obviously, we want people to make that commitment to become citizens,” she said.
The figures show that 11,183 people applied for citizenship across Australia last month and 13,389 in March. Since the test plans were revealed last September applications have totalled 96,153 almost 20,000 more than for the same period last year.
The test has been criticised by multicultural bodies, as well as by the prominent Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou, as discriminating against non-English speaking arrivals in Australia who were potentially model citizens.
The chairman of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, George Lekakis, said the rush for citizenship was not surprising. “It's because people feel they will be disadvantaged when the new test comes in. That is what's causing the panic.”
He said the new test would deter many people from applying for citizenship. “It's clear now more than ever that the Commonwealth Government is not serious about uniting Australians, and is more interested in dividing them,” he said.
Currently, applicants need to have been permanent residents for two years and understand “basic English”. Under the new provisions, applicants will be given a Q&A test of about 30 questions drawn randomly from a list of about 200.