Strict language rules for immigrants proposed
Newcomers could be forced to prove English or French proficiency before taking citizenship test
By Thandi Fletcher, Postmedia News October 15, 2011
Currently, immigrants ages 18 to 54 must only prove their language proficiency by taking a multiple-choice written test on citizenship questions, which federal officials believe "does not adequately assess [for the] listening and speaking skills" needed for effective integration into Canadian society.
The proposed changes, which would affect about 134,000 applicants a year, would require immigrants to prove they can speak English or French when they submit their first application for citizenship, which immigration officials believe will streamline processing of the applications.
They would have to submit results of an English or French proficiency test approved by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, proof of secondary or post-secondary education in French or English, or proof of completion of a language-training course such as the federally funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada.
"The ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is key to the success of new citizens in Canada," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a statement on Friday. "This change will encourage applicants to ensure that they can speak English or French when they apply for citizenship, thereby improving the integrity and effectiveness of the citizenship program for Canada and for new Canadians alike."
"It is expected that the majority of citizenship applicants would already have evidence that they could submit with their application," a government notice of the proposal stated. "Therefore, the requirement is not anticipated to pose a burden on the majority of applicants."
Max Berger, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said the changes would pose "an unnecessary burden" on economic immigrants who have already demonstrated their English or French proficiency in order to receive permanent residency.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "There's no burning need for these changes."
Those who would be affected by the new rules are refugees, citizens who sponsor a husband or wife and the spouses of economic immigrants, he said.
In the past, the citizenship test has "always been considered good enough to assess one's ability in one of the two official languages," he said. "If you've ever looked at the citizenship guide, you have to have a pretty good knowledge of English or French to get through and understand it. . The citizenship test has proven the test of time."
David Matas, a Winnipegbased immigration lawyer, said the new rules make application processing easier for the federal government, but make the application more cumbersome for immigrants.
"I think government should be user-friendly," he said. "Putting people through hoops for bureaucratic efficiency, I don't think that's user-friendly."
Studies provided by Kenney's office show the reasoning behind the proposed changes and suggest that Canadian citizens who speak English or French earn higher incomes than those who do not speak either of the national languages.
Donald Galloway, a law professor at the University of Victoria, said the proposal shows the Harper government puts the economy above the humanitarian needs of its residents.
"The government is saying the economic benefits are much more valuable than family unification benefits," said Galloway.
"I think that's a very limited vision of what immigration success is about."
If the proposed changes are made into regulations, Galloway said the extra cost and hassle of taking a language proficiency test could deter qualified applicants from coming to Canada.
"People will make that costbenefit analysis," he said.
"If we really are interested in getting the brightest and the best to come here rather than to another country, our immigration process is going to deter people who speak perfect English or French from applying."