Opposition opposes gov't reforms to Australian citizen law

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The government's plans to raise the standards for attaining Australian citizenship were condemned by the opposition party on Tuesday as a fundamental change that would create a large underclass of residents who do not fully belong.

The bill introduced to Parliament last week would require immigrants who want to apply for citizenship to have better English-language skills and to hold permanent resident visas for four years rather than one.

The center-left Labor Party's opposition to the legislation makes Senate approval for the changes far more difficult.

Opposition spokesman on citizenship Tony Burke rejected the conservative government's argument that the changes were needed to safeguard Australia against mounting security challenges.

Burke condemned the government's plan to raise the English-language benchmark from "basic" to "competent" as a "bizarre act of snobbery" that "guarantees we will have a new permanent underclass."

The new English test would "introduce permanently in Australia a large group of people, an increasingly large group of people, who will always live here, will never be asked to take allegiance to this country and will always be told by the Australian government they don't completely belong," Burke said.

"Now that is a big change in how this country operates and it's a change that Labor cannot support," he added.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Labor should recognize that citizenship needed to be more than an "an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process."

"It's perfectly obvious if you're going to get on and succeed and do your best in Australia, you need to have English — you're doing people a favor by making it a requirement," Turnbull said.