Language and Identity in Australian Immigration Policy



Australia’s immigration policies have remained an unsettled area subject to political disputation since the promulgation of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth) (IRA). Section 3(a) of this Act required that all prospective immigrants from non-European countries had to pass a dictation test in any European language selected by the immigration officer. Asian racial groups were the main target of this legislation, which was embraced as part of the ‘White Australia’ policy. Far from being an objective assessment of language proficiency skills, the dictation test was a discursive construct ostensibly designed to be failed and to exclude people whose political and racial affiliations were considered undesirable. The period from 1901–1957 marked an important chapter in the history of Australia’s immigration policies because it was during these early years of federation that successive Australian governments embraced explicit formal policies on testing language skills of intending immigrants. Since then the language question has continued to feature prominently in political and public debates on Australia’s citizenship and immigration laws. Events that happened during the formative years of a federated Australia continue to inform political and legislative decisions on Australian immigration policy.


Asylum Seeker Language Proficiency Test Taker Language Testing English Language Proficiency 
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Copyright information

© Finex Ndhlovu 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New EnglandAustralia

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