Foreign partners of Australians will soon need to meet English language requirements before they can stay permanently.
Their Australian spouse will also need to pass the test if they are a permanent resident rather than a citizen.
“We will require an applicant and a sponsor to have met functional level English or to have at least made reasonable efforts to learn English,” Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge told ABC radio on Thursday.
“For most people that would mean doing about 500 hours of free English language classes.”
Mr Tudge said the changes would help support social cohesion and economic participation, while better protecting vulnerable people from controlling or exploitative partners.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people would not need to pass the test to come to Australia.
It will only affect those looking to switch from provisional to permanent visas.
“For people to get into jobs, for people to be able to be protected in our society, for people to be able to access services and function in the community, having a basic level of English is actually really important,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
“You’ve got to have a crack, you’ve got to have a go, to learn English.”
The language requirements will not be introduced until at least mid-2021 and will affect only those who apply after the changes are introduced.
The federal budget measure is expected to save almost $5 million over the next four years.