Changes to the English language test

Changes to the English language test for prospective Australian citizens

Why is the English language test being changed?

Earlier this year, the Australian Government announced that it's strengthening the requirements for those wishing to become Australian citizens. Citing concerns over national security following recent terrorist attacks around the world, it stated "there is no better time to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity and our shared values."

The new requirements introduced a range of measures, including:

  • The need to demonstrate a minimum of four years permanent residence immediately prior to any citizenship application;
  • An undertaking to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community (The Australian Values Statement);
  • New test questions about Australian values, and the privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship;
  • Introducing a requirement for applicants to demonstrate their integration into the Australian community;
  • Strengthening the Pledge of commitment to refer to allegiance to Australia; and
  • Introducing an English language competency test before being able to sit the citizenship test.

Of these changes, it is the English language test which has generated the most interest (and concern) among those wishing to become Australian citizens.

On the face of it, the need to prove you can read, write and speak English at a competent level seems reasonable. But it's the word "competent" that is causing debate about whether to measures are fair.

Many bodies, including the Australian government’s own Multicultural Council, have argued that the changes are both too harsh and are a particular disadvantage for refugees: “While recognising that the ability to communicate in English is clearly important...the council is concerned that the language test being considered by government will adopt a standard that is too high and above that needed to achieve the aim of integration”.

So what does the English language test involve?

The stand-alone English test has four elements; reading, writing, listening and speaking. If the proposed changes come into effect, prospective citizens will be required to achieve an IELTS level 6 score in English (the equivalent of a university entrance level).

The Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection currently accepts the following English language tests: International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Occupational English Test (OET), Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT), Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic and the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test (also known as Certificate in Advanced English).​

How will changes to the test impact on my visa application?

It's still early days. Since the proposed changes have yet to be finalised, it is difficult to assess their impact on individual visa applications. However Australia’s parliamentary committee are strongly recommending that the government review their proposals and request that prospective migrants achieve a more basic level of English rather than the proposed IELTS level 6.

To find out more about the impact of these changes on your migration plans, contact Michael Leonard, CEO and Founder of Ark Migration on +44 7904 666 124 or email