Australia remains one of the most popular destinations for immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In 2019, they accounted for 30% of the country’s total population—about 3 percentage points higher than in 2010.
And the numbers are less likely to go down in the future. The University of New South Wales revealed that in a low-migration scenario, the population of Australia would be 27 million by 2030. But when more people would come in by then, the total number of residents would reach over 30 million.
All these figures indicate that Australia is definitely a highly diversified country, so much so that many don’t know how to speak in English. But then, is it mandatory in the country to do so?
Not a Requirement but Essential
In 2018, a faction of the country’s government proposed a more difficult English test for migrants after they learned that a growing number don’t know the official language.
But in reality, it is not mandatory for anyone to learn how to speak the language. None of the visas that Australia can issue make it a requisite.
In fact, some lawmakers say that making this mandatory can be detrimental—it is both offensive and insulting. For others, it is enough that they know conversational English.
However, immigrants can benefit more from knowing how to speak the language:
1. The Country’s Policies Can Change
Today, Australia’s stance on non-English-speaking migrants may be lenient, but that may change soon. A new proposal suggested that foreign partners of Australian residents who wanted to get a permanent residence visa may now have to complete and pass an English proficiency exam. If this pushes through, it can begin this year.
2. Some Schools May Require English Proficiency
Those who plan to study in the country may want to enroll in programs like ESL Tutoring Services as some schools, particularly universities, may require their students to know not only conversational but functional or even high level of English.
A number of learning institutions may accept only those who pass recognized English proficiency exams like TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System). They may also require passing a certain band or reaching a minimum score.
3. Australian Documents Are in English
Migrants accomplish the same forms as native Australians do, such as application forms for mortgage and tax returns. These are in English.
While one may download the translated versions, not all documents will have this. And even if they are translated, the translations don’t cover all non-English languages spoken by migrants.
4. The Citizenship Test Is In English
Being able to immigrate to Australia doesn’t automatically make the individuals permanent residents or even citizens.
To be a permanent resident, they need to apply for a permanent residency visa that has a validity of five years. One can choose to remain under the PR visa, but most opt to become an Australian citizen.
But to achieve that, they need to have been living in Australia for at least 4 years, of which at least 12 months as a permanent resident. Most of all, they need to pass the citizenship test and interview.
This exam will assess not only the person’s readiness to become a full-fledged Australian but also their competency level of speaking English.
Further, new structural changes in the test cover more complex topics like racial abuse and freedom of speech. Failing to answer any of these five new questions correctly can automatically result in failure.
5. The Job Market Can Become Competitive
Because of the number of migrants who move to Australia, the country’s workforce is highly diverse. Over 50% of the employees have interacted or worked with someone from another cultural background.
Despite the presence of various cultures in the workplace, most speak English as the universal form of communication.
Moreover, older migrants may end up competing for the same roles and positions as the younger generation. These millennials may be from another country or born from a family with a non-Australian background. However, their exposure to other cultures and media may make them more confident or knowledgeable in English.
6. Assimilating Is Easier
There’s a lot of debate on whether migrants need to assimilate with the culture and society of their destination. Either way, foreigners in Australia can open themselves to more opportunities and reduce the risk of isolation if they can adapt to the country’s culture, including being able to communicate in English.
Foreign migrants can definitely arrive in Australia and compete for jobs or take advantage of what it offers. But if they want to maximize their stay here, learning the country’s official language is essential.