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Australia to tighten citizenship rules for new migrants

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Australia will make it harder for people to gain citizenship, with applicants needing to demonstrate advanced English language skills and to pass other tests in a major overhaul of the visa and migration process, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Thursday.

A citizenship test must reflect “Australian values,” Turnbull said as he unveiled the tougher requirements for new applicants, adding they would “strengthen citizenship, to make for a stronger Australia”

Aspiring citizens “will need to have competent English,” he said.

New applicants will be required to pass a stringent stand-alone language test, involving reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Applicants will also be quizzed on issues like domestic violence and whether they think it is okay for somebody to beat their wife.

The test will also touch on topics such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. Turnbull said those questions were “important to reinforce our values.”

Under the new rules, applicants must have lived in Australia for four years as a permanent resident – three years longer than at present.

Australia has one of the highest levels of immigration in the world, with one in four Australians either born overseas or with at least one parent born in another country.

Turnbull’s citizenship announcement came just two days after he laid out new stricter visa requirements for skilled workers from overseas.

Turnbull said Thursday the changes would ensure that migrants were “integrated into and engaged with our Australian community, so that they’re part of the community.”

“There is no more important title in our democracy than Australian citizen and … that institution must reflect Australian values,” he told reporters in the capital Canberra.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there would also be greater police checks on citizenship applicants. He said the changes were not targeted at any one religion, but rather at certain attitudes.

“They are pointed at people who might think that domestic violence is okay. Well it’s not,” he told the television network Seven.

Domestic violence is a major issue in Australia, with one in three woman experiencing physical or sexual violence, according to rights groups, but the rate is higher in non-immigrant communities.

Activist group GetUp said Turnbull’s conservative government “accuses all immigrants… of not adhering with some confected notion of Australian values.”

“The announcement implicitly accuses people who want to live in Australia of being more likely to abuse their wife, not learn English, and engage in crime,” GetUp human rights director Shen Narayanasamy said in a statement.

“It’s deeply offensive to generations of people who have built their lives here.”

Meanwhile, far-right leader Pauline Hanson took credit for the government’s recent crackdown on migrants and overseas workers, saying Turnbull’s “Australia first” and “Australian values” approach came about because of pressure from her anti-Islamic party, One Nation.

“Good to see the PM is finally acting on the suggestions I made to him about the citizenship test,” she said Thursday on Twitter.

Penny Wong, a senior leader in the opposition Labor Party, said she did not understand the need for the changes.

“If English grammar is the test there might be a few members of parliament who might struggle,” she told local ABC radio.

“It seems a little odd to me that you would actually ask people whether or not they are going to obey the law when they already pledge to obey the law,” Wong, a senator, said.

She also accused Turnbull of making the announcements for political gain.

In recent weeks, Turnbull has seen massive decline in his popularity.

He has also faced a series of attacks from former prime minister, Tony Abbott, who Turnbull ousted in 2015.

-dpa