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Thursday 22 February 2018

Computer woes: Irish vet fails oral English test in Australian visa bid

Dr Louise (Lucy) Kennedy has been living in Australia for two years
Dr Louise (Lucy) Kennedy has been living in Australia for two years
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

AN IRISH vet's Australian residency was put at risk when she was told that her oral English fluency was not up to scratch by an automated computer program.

Louise (Lucy) Kennedy (34), from Roundwood in Co Wicklow, has been working as an equine vet on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Despite being a native English speaker with two university degrees the young professional was deemed insufficient in her native tongue by an automatic scoring system.

Lucy and husband Adam, an Australian, are expecting their first baby in 12 weeks and the Irish woman decided to apply for permanent residency, after two years in the country.

For a skilled immigrant visa applicants need to take an English proficiency test.

"I went with a company called Pearson because they give you the most points," Lucy told

The test was "very, very easy" she said.

Part of it, the oral competency section, involved reading a paragraph that appeared on-screen.

But when she received her results Lucy discovered she has scored 74 points when the government requires 79.

It was only the oral competency section which was scored low.

"I just thought [it was a mistake] and I'll just ring them up and they'll just listen to it again," she said.

However, after much back and forth with the company, she was given the opportunity to take the $300 (€200) test again, free of charge.

"That's based on the fact that there was construction work outside of the test centre at the time which could be a possible interference," she said.

She is convinced that it is a technical flaw in the company's software that has caused her not to be recognised as a native speaker. Other companies use human assessors.

"It was very, very easy - a really basic paragraph," she said.

Because her husband is Australian Lucy has the option of applying for a more expensive spouse visa which she is now in the process of doing.

"Because I'm married to an Aussie I luckily have a back-up visa to go to but there is a $3,000 (€2,000) cost over the skilled immigrant visa which we weren't banking on 12 weeks before having our first baby," she said.

Time was also a factor in trying to rectify her fluency test results she said as her current visa would have expired in the time-frame it would take for all of the paperwork to be completed, even if she was recognised as a fluent English speaker by the testing company.

She said the experience was very stressful.

"It was even such a pain to have to take the whole day of work to do the test and then be told I can't speak English," she said.

Lucy, who works with a mobile equine unit between north Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, holds two degrees;  a BA in politics and history from UCD and my doctor of veterinary medicine is from the faculty of Veterinary Science, Budapest.

Pearson, the company running the test, told Australian Associated Press that there was nothing wrong with their systems or the scoring of test scores.

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

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