August 13, 2020
WIMMERADevelopment Association has reignited a campaign to bring citizenship testing to the region.
The association’s Wimmera Settlement Services is calling on the Wimmera Southern Mallee community to support its advocacy for ongoing funding to develop and deliver citizenship application support and test preparation for its eligible clients.
It also advocates for a visiting service, once or twice a year, that would enable regional migrants to plan their preparation for the testing, and enable organisations working with migants to support larger groups to prepare for their tests.
Wimmera Settlement Services settlement officer Sara Barron said the long-running campaign arose again in light of the proliferation of COVID-19 remote service delivery.
“Regional citizenship training and testing remains an ongoing challenge and there are significant barriers to citizenship training and testing for eligible visa holders in our region," Ms Barron said.
“This includes a lack of local support and training to prepare applications and to prepare for the citizenship test; and excessive distances to testing sites. Nhill’s closest testing sites, for example, are a four-hour drive away.
“Ad-hoc testing dates and times have often meant extremely early starts – as early as 3am – and multiple journeys for family groups.”
Wimmera Settlement Services has advocated for local citizenship testing since 2012.
A mobile regional testing model, brought to Horsham in 2014, saw 34 people sit the test - 20 from Nhill and 14 from Horsham - with 32 successfully passing the test.
Regional testing delivered through designated Department of Home Affairs’ offices has since replaced the former model.
“This is not working for our region. The closest testing sites are in Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and Mildura,” Ms Barron said.
“There are significant wait times for testing at these sites, and high numbers of potential new citizens in the region unable to access them.”
Ms Barron said there was strong demand for citizenship testing in the Wimmera Southern Mallee.
“In 2018 WDA supported the Centre for Participation to secure Fostering Integration funding to run a pilot citizenship training course. This has 17 people enrolled, with four more due to join in February, pre-COVID-19 suspension,” Ms Barron said.
“The course is also highlighting the challenges of online registration for many of our migrants, and the high need for support.
“There are people awaiting their citizenship test dates, having lodged their applications several years ago; there are also people still waiting for the outcome of their citizenship test, which they sat over a year ago.”
Wimmera Settlement Services discussed the matter with Member for Mallee Anne Webster earlier this year.