Foreigners who fall in love with Australians could have to complete 500 hours of English classes before they are allowed to stay here permanently.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge revealed new details of the English language requirements, announced in Tuesday’s Federal Budget, for people applying for partner visas.
The test also applies to an applicant’s spouse, if they are a permanent resident rather than an Australian citizen.
“This will apply to prospective partner visa applications, from about the middle of next year,” Mr Tudge said.
“What this will mean is that we will require an applicant and a sponsor to have met functional level English or to have at least made reasonable efforts to learn English.
“And by reasonable efforts we mean for most people that would be doing about 500 hours of free English language classes.”
Mr Tudge pointed to a previously announced overhaul of the Adult Migrant English Program, giving migrants access to unlimited English classes free of charge.
Partner visas are processed in two stages and the minister’s office said the new language requirement would not need to be met until someone was applying for permanency, usually after two years of being able to live in Australia on a temporary partner visa.
The Government is also temporarily boosting the number of partner visas available this financial year under the existing migration cap of 160,000 places.
Mr Tudge said there was almost one million people living in Australia with poor or no English and that language skills were necessary to finding work and staying safe.
“In some cases, the husband will not want his partner or wife to learn English. And in part that’s for control reasons,” he said.
“And we want to encourage everybody to be able to learn English so that they can fully engage in Australian life, in every aspect of it, from employment markets, to our democracy, to our society, to community activity.
“English is absolutely essential in order to do all of that.”
Changes alarm Australians waiting for partners to migrate
Migration agent Andrew McAuley said the new English requirement was a significant policy shift.
“A lot of migration agents and lawyers and partner visa applicants I think came out in a cold sweat when they heard that news, so yeah it’s a huge change coming through,” he said.
“It certainly puts on a lot of pressure on couples who’ve been hard hit by COVID, many of them losing their jobs and now they’ve got this added burden to pass an English test.”
Melbourne woman Christelle Rageh is hoping her Lebanese fiance Elie will be able to move to Australia and said the announcement had created a lot of uncertainty.
“It’s kind of a slap in the face because it made us feel like if we don’t know English we can’t be together,” she said.
“Now for my case I’m very lucky that my partner and I communicate in English, he’s English educated, he’s fluent in English.
“But I’m just concerned for other couples who don’t really know English, what’s going to happen to them?”
This content was originally published here.