No English, no visa: Australia to block visa for partners if they don’t speak English


Australians who fall in love with non-English speaking foreigners will be barred from bringing their partners into the country to be married if they do not speak English.

In Tuesday’s federal budget the government said it would introduce an English language test for both the person being sponsored for a visa to move to Australia to marry their partner and their sponsor if they are non-English speaking permanent residents.

“These changes will help support English language acquisition and enhance social cohesion and economic participation outcomes,” the budget papers said.

The measure is estimated to save the government $4.9 million over the forward estimates.

Chelsea Sonkar, 30, from Canberra, has applied for a partner visa for her husband Sanjay Sonkar, 30, from Varanasi, India.

She has been raising their one-year-old son alone for the past year while working and studying because Sanjay was caught in India when the borders closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs Sonkar said the government was sending a clear but ugly message about the type of husband or wife that they deemed suitable for Australians.

“My instinctive reaction was that the government has a preference for the type of spouse that they want to include in the Australian community,” she said.

“It sends a very strong message that spouses coming from poorer backgrounds are not welcome.

Mrs Sonkar is confident Mr Sonkar would pass an oral language test because he works as a tourist guide and converses in several languages conversationally. But she is worried that if the test is written he will be at a disadvantage because he dropped out of school when he was 16 to support his family after his father became ill.

“To think that small instance could potentially cost him, he’s just doing the best he can and he’s a good man,” she said.

Mrs Sonkar said the new requirement was in addition to the minimum $8000 visa application fee, the more than two years it takes the department to process partner visas plus the extensive paperwork required to prove that a relationship is genuine.

“I felt angry because now there’s another hurdle that we have to jump through when we’re doing everything we can,” she said.

The changes were criticised by the Opposition’s spokesman for multicultural affairs, Andrew Giles.

“English proficiency isn’t a test of someone’s love,” Mr Giles said.

“These changes arrived without any warning, consultation or explanation and take us back to the 1950s. Why would Australia’s government seek to do something like this, instead of keeping partners together?”

Amelia Elliot, who runs an online support and lobbying group for Australians trying to obtain visas for their partners, said the change was “pure discrimination.”

“It dictates that we cannot love who we love, and that instead we must marry according to what is dictated by budget policy. This government treats multi-national couples as second-class citizens and it must stop.”

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge did not respond to requests for comment.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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