Immigration Changes: Necessary or Xenophobic?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s recent announcement of several changes to the 457 visa scheme and the pathway to citizenship has sparked debate around the country. The Government claims that the proposed changes promote jobs for Australians and ensure that people who want to become citizens are fully integrated into Australian society before they have the privilege of being an Australian. At the same time, some people also consider this as unfair policy that is fueled by a rise in xenophobia. Has a lot really changed, or has there been an overreaction in the media to spruik reactions and sell news?

The first change saw the government scrap the 457 visa and replace it with two additional visas. For those people who are not familiar with the 457 visa, it is a temporary work permit provided to foreigners who are sponsored by an Australian employer to come to Australia. The 457 visa is valid for four years, and under the previous conditions, holders could apply for permanent residence after two years.

The two new visas that will replace the 457 visa will vary in length. The first one will be valid for two years, and anyone with an occupation on the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) can qualify. The second is valid for four years, and anyone with an occupation on the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) can qualify. Both of these occupation lists have been culled massively, with around 200 occupations being cut. These lists are also used for determining eligibility to apply for permanent residence visas.

Obviously, many people will be affected by these changes, and workers on 457 visas who dreamed of becoming Australian citizens will have to look at other options. However harsh these changes are on immigrants, however, they are necessary.

Several occupations previously on the skill lists should not have required foreign workers. A variety of unskilled jobs, such as blacksmiths, should go to Australians as it does not take a lot of time, money and resources to train people for low-skilled jobs. The current unemployment rate in Australia is around 5.8 per cent, so it makes no sense to bring in people from overseas to do these low-skilled jobs.

Many people believe that the culling of the skilled occupation lists has not been sufficient, however, and that it would be in the best interest of the country to slash even more occupations. For example, at a time when law graduates are struggling to find jobs after university due to market oversaturation, barristers and lawyers are still on the MLTSSL and STSOL. This means that international students in law can apply for permanent residence shortly after graduating.

It is obvious that certain skills necessary for the country need to be imported, otherwise economic growth would take a hit. IT professionals, doctors and certain types of engineers from overseas keep these industries alive and booming. It is in the best interest of the country to let people in occupations that are experiencing genuine shortages of domestic labour become permanent residents, but that should be the extent of it.

The other significant changes to the new immigration laws are the requirements for foreigners to become Australian citizens. Previously, an applicant had to live in Australia legally for four years, holding permanent residency for at least one of these years. The new amendments mean that foreigners will have to be permanent residents for four years before they will be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Migrants will also have to demonstrate integration within Australian society. The new citizenship test will ask migrants about their values to make sure they align with Australian values. They will also be obliged to sit a separate English test to ensure they have sufficient English language skills thrive in the Australian community.

Most of these changes are reasonable enough. It is the duty of migrants to integrate properly into society if they want to live and work in a foreign country, let alone become a citizen of the country. These changes will encourage migrants integrate into society better before they have the privilege of becoming Australian citizens.

However, the English test requirement seems somewhat redundant in some situations. Migrants on skilled permanent visas already had to take English language tests (such as the IELTS or TOEFL), and meet the stringent score requirements on the test in order to be eligible to apply for their permanent visas. Therefore, it seems unnecessary to subject them to another English test after they have already displayed competent English language skills.

Migrants on permanent humanitarian visas, however, should be subject to an English proficiency test. When refugees are granted permanent protection visas, they are not required to take an English test. If they want to become Australian citizens, they must be made to prove that their English language skills are good enough to allow them to be contributing members of the Australian community.

This is obviously a sensitive debate. Many people see the changes to Australia’s immigration policies as necessary in order to put Australians first, while others see it as a xenophobic ploy to win back supporters from far-right parties like One Nation. It is true that many aspiring Australian citizens will be affected, with many no longer being able to even qualify for a visa to work in the country. However, the Government’s duty is to serve its own people first, and if that means stricter immigration policies, the government has every right to do so. Overall, these changes will be of benefit to Australia, because they will ensure that new Australian citizens respect and practice Australian values, and are better integrated into society.