Lawmakers have derailed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's attempt to make it difficult for foreigners to obtain visa and citizenship.

Many like these Iranian asylum seekers trying to reach Australia have been turned back and left at mercy of the sea. AP
Many like these Iranian asylum seekers trying to reach Australia have been turned back and left at mercy of the sea. AP (AP)

Australia's lawmakers have rejected legislation that would tighten citizenship and foreign worker visa rules, a blow to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who has been trying to appease right-wing sentiments.

In April, Turnbull said Australia would abolish a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replace it with a new programme requiring better English-language and job skills.

Turnbull also announced plans to raise the bar for citizenship by lengthening the waiting period and adding a new "Australian values" test.

But Australia's senate, where Turnbull's centre-right government does not enjoy a majority, rejected the proposal in a late vote on Wednesday, with opposition lawmakers insisting the rules were counter to Australian multicultural values.

The senate rejection may further drag on support for Turnbull, which, according to the widely watched Newspoll poll on Monday, languishes at its lowest level in more than two years.

The next election is not until 2019, but continued poor polling could undermine Turnbull's leadership.

Mathias Cormann, Australia's special minister of state, said on Wednesday the government will seek to move the legislation through the senate again as soon as they have secured the necessary support.

"We will keep working with all non-government senators to secure the necessary support," Cormann told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

A spokeswoman for Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton said visa applications would now be considered under the previous rules.

Australia adopted some of the harshest measures against illegal immigrants during the term of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott when boats carrying refugees were forced back towards the high seas and asylum seekers detained on islands. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies