Australia to make English test more difficult

07 November 2005

Australia, which is currently undergoing a massive campaign to attract more immigrants, is considering making its English language tests for skilled migrants more difficult, after finding that many immigrants cannot speak the language well enough to get jobs in the shortage sectors.

The federal Government has launched the biggest global recruitment drive for skilled migrants since the "Ten Pound Pom" campaign in the 1950s and 1960s, as it tries to attract 20,000 skilled workers from across Europe and Asia.

But a wide-ranging study has revealed such migrants often miss out on jobs for which they are qualified because they have a poor grasp of English.

Research has also found overseas students who complete their degrees in Australia are among those who find it difficult to find work relating to their skills.

To address the problem, the Immigration Department is considering forcing foreign students to undertake a year's work experience after completing their studies before they can apply for permanent residency.

Figures released recently by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone showed more than 80 percent of skilled migrants found work, but associate professor Lesleyanne Hawthorne, of Flinders University, said only two-thirds had found jobs appropriate to their skills.

"In a globally competitive system ... (we need) to ensure we are still going to get a significant proportion of migrants who have excellent chances of not just getting work, but skilled work," said Ms Hawthorne, one of three academics advising the department.

English language training was a "critical issue", she said.

"A lot of employers have higher expectations than (the level set by the Immigration Department). One of the questions we're asking is, have we set (the English requirements) at the right level?"

Immigration Department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi said changes to the English language test were not intended to drive people away.

"It's increasing their prospect of employment success, which is at the end of the day what we want," he said. "We're not doing it just for the sake of delivering numbers.

"We're doing it because we want more people who have the skills and experience that an Australian employer wants."

Processing times - up to 11 months for skilled migration applications - were also a concern.

"I'd rather push towards six to eight months," Mr Rizvi said, adding that the department faced 70,000 general skilled migration applications next year and had a current backlog of about 50,000.