The purpose of this briefing is to inform the minister of the issues related to the Australian Citizenship Test and why following Canada's lead would be beneficial for the country.
Australia and Canada are very similar countries. From having a large landmass to their colonial heritage, federal structures and even market policies, they are alike in many aspects. Both countries in the recent past have made changes to their citizenship policies. Where Canada has been a beacon of openness and possibilities, Australia has resorted to a more stringent approach. The Australian Government has decided that it will reduce its immigration intake, cap the maximum age for skilled workers at 45 and bring tough English language requirements for all new residents. What they need to understand is, a drastic step such as this may be detrimental to their economic growth.
Australia and Canada both have made changes to their country's citizenship policies in the recent past. To be eligible for Australian citizenship, one is required to live in Australia for 4 years and pass English and Civics test, also known as the "Australian Values Test". Language has always been an integral determinant in Australia's colonial and post-colonial history. Language has been used to discriminate between those who were fit for immigration and those who were not. The exclusion was done based on racism and ethnicity. These practices were a part of the "Australian White Policy" - which aimed at promoting the British culture and marginalized the indigenous population of the country.
Apart from tougher language tests, new immigrants will also have to face the Australian Values Test, which will assess their understanding of Australian values and commitment to the country. The problem with the change in policies is that there now runs a risk of destabilizing thousands of families. Also, the necessity of taking a "Values Test" to judge one's commitment and understanding of culture is debatable. One must embrace the culture of another nation out of willingness, not force. Values cannot be instilled in people by making them sit through exams. Also, good command over English does not guarantee an easy life for immigrants. The strong undertones of Colonialism, evident by the policies, are a threat to multiculturalism. The policymakers feel the culture of Australia is under threat by the difference in the culture of the immigrants. The point of globalisation is to be more inclusive and promote cultural diversity. Values are fluid concepts and it is better to acknowledge that there are multiple value systems and multiple cultural practices in a contemporary setting.
The Canadian citizenship policies, in comparison, are more open, supportive and encouraging of integration. This is the contributing factor to Canada's high naturalization rates. Canada has always been a country that has seen growth in its naturalization rates, but this was observed until 2006 when their citizenship policies changed. These changes created different "classes of citizens". Citizenship became difficult to get and easy to lose. The changes included tougher language and culture tests, the result of which saw a decline in the naturalization rates of the country. In 2016 Trudeau's Liberal Government introduced the C-6 bill, reversing all the harsh policies and resetting it back to the way things originally were. It was after this decision that things started looking up for Canada.
Certain key factors determine if a person would be keen on applying for citizenship in a particular country. These include time and economic opportunities. Time is a crucial factor that determines citizenship. The longer someone has spent in a host country, the more likely they are to want to become citizens. Similarly, if there is scope for economic growth for migrants, they are highly likely to want to remain in that country and earn their livelihood. Lesser economic growth and opportunities to work would see a decline in the interest to stay on. The current Canadian Government is quite migrant-friendly, they are more accepting, inclusive, promote diversity, address inconveniences faced by non-citizens and provide increased access to economic opportunities. They also do not endorse racist or discriminatory practices. Immigrants from non-OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) have significantly higher earnings after becoming citizens and they have access to the same opportunities as a Canadian-born, making Canada a much sought after country to migrate to and settle in.
On comparing the citizenship policies of Australia and Canada, it can be seen how Canada, though it's open and accepting approach inculcates a sense of belongingness among the immigrants to such an extent that they wish to be permanently attached to the country. On the other hand, Australia expects its immigrants to sit through a Values Test to determine if they understand Australian values and would adhere to its standards. Immigration integration is a complex and personal process and each immigrant has their own unique experience. The idea that one does not have to let go of their culture to become a part of Canada's culture is an appealing approach. Immigrants have the freedom to blend their own cultures into Canada's culture climate, thereby adding to Canada's cultural diversity. This is what Australia needs to learn – to promote multiculturalism.
From the above argument it is evident that though Canada and Australia are very alike, it is Canada and not Australia which is portrayed as the beacon of acceptance and diversity. Canada has relatively flexible and open citizenship laws. They are known to be welcoming of refugees, whereas the Australian refugee policy has been criticised for being ruthless. Though Australia has made significant progress in economic growth, that alone is not enough for it to become a well-rounded country. It would do Australia well if it could adopt Canada's approach of confidence in their policies and passion for openness. Canada has proved that by efficient planning and execution, one can become a country everyone takes inspiration from. Both countries are dependent on immigrants. Unlike Canada, who is secure in their own culture, Australia sees the incoming migrants as a threat to their culture. Hence they want to accept only those who would pass some test and take responsibility by blending into the Australian Values. Immigration will help both countries economically and alleviate fiscal pressures. Canada is clear on its stance of inviting more immigrants and maintain high naturalization rates to help boost their economy. Tightening of the citizenship laws is not going to help Australia in the long run and the sooner they rectify this, the better. It is time Australia too makes some much-needed changes and rebuild its image.
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