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Australian citizenship just got tougher

Immigrants who want to become Australian citizens, have to appear for an English test and a quiz on Australian history, culture and democracy.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2006 15:53 IST

Immigrants who want to become Australian citizens under the proposed new citizenship law, will now be required to appear for an English test and a 45-minute quiz on Australian history, culture and the democratic system.

They would also be asked to sign a pledge of commitment as part of the new tough citizenship requirements, media reports said.

However, people under 18 and over 60 would be exempted from the language test as would people with disabilities. Failing the test would not have any impact on a person's existing visa status.

"Citizenship is a privilege that 'gives us our identity'," the Sydney Herald quoted Andrew Robb, Australian parliamentary secretary for immigration and multicultural affairs, as saying.

"It tells us who we are [and] where we fit in the world. It is a unifying force in Australia and if we give it away like confetti it is not valued," he added.

The Australian government has released a discussion paper proposing to strengthen laws to make immigrants wait longer to be eligible for citizenship.

According to the paper, a formal citizenship test would provide a "real incentive to learn English and to understand the Australian way of life".

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has defended the planned changes, saying the government in the past had made citizenship "a little too easy".

The proposed changes in the immigration law have upset the Muslim community in the country.

At a weekend conference in Sydney, several Islamic leaders who did not want to be named described the government's moves on citizenship as "the new Tampa", a reference to the uproar over boat people that preceded the 2001 election.

Howard has, however, insisted that the reforms had "nothing to do with the Muslim religion".

The recent terror attacks across major cities of the world has prompted the Australian government to make its immigration and citizenship law tougher.

Already residency requirements have been sharpened. Immigrants now have to wait at least four years instead of two before being able to apply for citizenship.

First Published: Sep 18, 2006 13:31 IST