Thursday, 29 October 2020
Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 will amend the Immigration (Education) Act 1971, to provide greater access to free English language tuition for migrants to Australia.
Without English, it's harder to get a job, it's harder to integrate into a person's local community, and harder to participate in Australia's democracy.
Only 13 per cent of those with no English skills are in work today compared to 62 per cent of those who speak English well.
Migrants with no English skills are also more vulnerable to fall victim to foreign interference and misinformation, and will likely find it harder to seek help if they are a victim of family violence or exploitation.
English language is also vital to our social cohesion—if we can't communicate at school, or work, or in social settings, how can we fully connect as a nation?
Census data shows that the number of people in Australia who do not speak English well or at all has risen.
In 2006, about 560,000 residents did not speak English well or at all. By 2016, at the last census, it was 820,000.
Following that trend, there is now likely now close to a million people living in Australia who do not speak English well or at all—about half of those are working age.
It's in their interest and it's in the interest of all Australians that we reverse this trend. We must do better.
This bill is designed to support migrants to increase their English language proficiency. It contains four key measures, which I will discuss in greater detail.
The first measure is to remove the current 510-hour limit on free English tuition that a migrant is entitled to under the Adult Migrant English Program (the AMEP).
Learning a new language is complex and takes time. The number of hours of tuition required by each individual varies based on many factors, including age, prior education and the linguistic distance of their first language from English. Research shows that 510 hours is not a realistic time frame for most migrants to reach even a functional level of English. This amendment will ensure that migrants participating in the AMEP have the opportunity to continue to undertake free English tuition until they reach a vocational level of proficiency in English—that is, that they will be able to do as many hours as they need of free English language classes.
The second measure is to extend the upper limit for eligibility to access the AMEP from functional English to vocational English.
The AMEP currently provides free English tuition for migrants up to the level of functional English. This is lower than the level of English required by most employers, and for entry to most TAFE courses. By raising the upper limit to vocational English, the government will be ensuring that migrants have the opportunity to study English for longer and reach a higher level of proficiency. This will enhance migrants' prospects for further education and future employment, as well as support their full participation in the Australian community.
The third measure is to remove the time limits on enrolment, commencement and completion of English tuition for certain visa holders.
This amendment will remove disincentives to participation in English language studies, by allowing certain visa holders with low levels of English proficiency who are in, or have already entered Australia, the opportunity to re-engage in language learning. This recognises that migrants often have a number of competing settlement priorities when they first arrive in Australia, including work, accommodation and family commitments. This amendment will provide a strong message regarding the importance of learning the national language, and the level of support that the government is committed to provide to do this.
Finally, the fourth measure is to provide the discretion for English courses to be delivered to people who are outside Australia and who have applied for or been granted a permanent visa, or a specified temporary visa.
Currently, this discretion only applies to people outside Australia who have applied for a permanent visa. It does not include people who have been granted a permanent visa, or persons who have applied for or been granted a temporary visa.
This amendment will ensure that tuition options can be developed in the future for the delivery of English courses to people who are overseas, including after their visas have been granted, in preparation for their migration to Australia.
In conclusion, this bill makes a number of important amendments that will better support migrants in their efforts to learn English, and contribute to enhanced social cohesion within the Australian community.
I commend the bill to the chamber.