Irish vet's English fails Australian computer visa test

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Louise Kennedy, a vet working in Queensland, applied for an Australian permanent residency visa

An Irish vet with two university degrees has been told by a computerised test that her spoken English is not good enough for an Australian visa.

Louise Kennedy, originally from County Wicklow, applied for permanent residency after two years in Australia.

She had been working as a vet in Queensland.

Ms Kennedy RTE radio she was not the only applicant whose opportunity to gain a visa had been affected.

"I've had messages on Facebook from other native speakers who have also failed on the oral fluency component," she said.

The mandatory test involved writing, reading and speaking, with the oral section scored by voice-recognition technology.

'Possible interference'

Ms Kennedy was initially unconcerned about the oral test, which involved reading a paragraph that appeared on screen.

"I went and did the English test, didn't think much of it, thought it was quite easy, and then came up five points short on my visa," she said.

She was told she had scored 74 points - below the 79 points required - having scored 90 or more in all the other parts.

The vet, who is married to an Australian and expecting her first child in October, said she believed the failure was caused by flaws in the voice-recognition technology.

The company that runs the test, Pearson, told the Australian Associated Press there were no problems with its system.

Sasha Hampson, the head of English for Pearson Asia Pacific, said the immigration department set the bar very high for people seeking permanent residency.

Ms Kennedy said she had been offered the chance to retake the test free of charge due to "possible interference" caused by construction work outside the centre.

But with her current visa running out in September, she has had to look at alternative arrangements.

"Luckily, I married my Australian husband in February so I've been able to apply for a spousal visa, but if I wasn't in that situation I could be coming home right now," she said.

The catch is that the spousal visa costs 3,000 Australian dollars (£1,800) more than the skilled migrant visa for which she had applied.

"It's not a great time for us to have to pay that but at least I can stay," she said.