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.
The language requirements will not be introduced until at least mid-next year and will only affect people who apply after the changes are introduced.
The federal budget measure is expected to save almost $5 million over the next four years.