Changes to the Adult Migrant English Program are among a number of moves the government is making to boost social cohesion as Australia emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Permanent residents and citizens with poor English will be given unlimited language classes, and aspiring Australians will face a tougher values test amid challenges to social cohesion from the coronavirus pandemic and foreign interference.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge will announce changes to the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) at the National Press Club on Friday, which include the lifting of the the cap on class hours and removing the five year time limit in which those eligible can access the scheme.
The AMEP currently provides most migrants 510 hours of free language tuition. But on average, Mr Tudge will say, participants are only completing 300 hours of classes and 21 per cent are leaving without “functional English”, or “the basic language skills to enable participation in society”. “I am encouraging those who fit this description to take up this opportunity. Use this time to become better equipped in learning English,” he will say.
Mr Tudge will say estimates show close to a million people across the country now lack some proficiency in English, which places some migrants at a “huge disadvantage” from gaining employment and integrating in Australian life. “This is not to blame anyone whose English language proficiency is poor, but clearly full participation in the community is difficult when there are language barriers,” he will say.
“Without English language skills, migrants are less likely to get a job, less likely to integrate, and less likely to participate in our democracy.”
According to census data, the number of people in Australia who said they could not speak English well or at all increased from about 560,000 in 2006 to around 820,000 in 2016.
The changes to the AMEP are among a number of moves the government is making as part of efforts to boost social cohesion as Australia emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Tudge will say. The government is also putting “greater emphasis” on Australian citizenship and will update the test by including new questions on “Australian values”.
“Australian citizenship is both a privilege and a responsibility, and it should be granted to those who support our values, respect our laws, and want to contribute to Australia’s future,” Mr Tudge will say. A record number of people – more than 200,000 – became Australian citizens in the 2019-20 financial year.
The government is also launching a research program to better understand community sentiment towards social cohesion, boosting its Community Liaison Officer network to include more officers with dual language skills and will develop “a broader campaign articulating our national identity”. “These initiatives will reinforce our values, strengthen our common language and keep us further united,” Mr Tudge will say.
Mr Tudge will also promote the need to address the spread of malign information and propaganda through multicultural media warning this is being intensified by the “echo chambers” created by modern technology like social media. “This can be particularly influential if local residents’ English is poor and hence they are more reliant on foreign language sources,” he will say.