Canada, Immigration, Visas, and English Ability – One Kick at the (Language) Can

By Author: Admin | March 15, 2010

If you are considering immigration to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker or Canada Experience Class category, you must possess a certain level of English or French language skills.  The amount of fluency depends on your score in the other factors such as experience, education, education of a spouse (if any), a history of Canadian work or Canadian study, and age.

With regard to the proving of English language ability, the Canadian immigration department prefers third party language testing in the form of the IELTS.  Legally, speaking, there is an option to forgo the writing of the IELTS test; one can compose a submission with evidence asserting their level of English, in lieu of the IELTS.  However, I invariably instruct most of my clients to take the IELTS language test;  the only exceptions are clients who were educated in English in a predominantly English speaking country.

Canada’s immigration department shall (as of April 10 2010) actively discourage immigration applicants from asserting their own fluency in English without the IELTS.  The change is quoted below:

Effective April 10, 2010, visa officers will only consider the evidence of language proficiency provided at the time of application.  Currently, if a written submission does not satisfy the visa officer that the applicant has demonstrated the level of language proficiency claimed, the applicant is offered the opportunity to undergo and submit the results of a designated language test.  Under the new directive, visa officers will no longer offer the applicant a “second chance” to prove their language proficiency when the written evidence does not support their claim.  This will apply to all FSW and CEC applications received on or after the effective date.

In other words, clients who don’t obviously present proof of their level of English ability may have their application for Canadian immigration refused, should a visa officer disagree with the asserted level of English.

The immigration department’s reasons for the change are as follows:

This change is another improvement which supports the Action Plan for Faster Immigration.  A survey of missions abroad revealed that a substantial proportion of applicants worldwide are providing written submissions as evidence of language proficiency, and a sizeable majority of these submissions do not support the level claimed.  Offering these applicants a “second chance” not only lengthens the processing of their applications, but also adds to the overall processing burden for all FSW applications.  Consequently, removing this extra step in the process will improve processing times.

In other words, it appears that applicants for immigration may have inflated their level of English language ability, or at least, have not been able to prove the level of English asserted, thus causing delays in the processing of immigration applications.

Canada Immigration’s preference for standardized testing in the form of an IELTS test is very apparent in the following passage:

For others [those whose language is not English], providing the results of a language test by a designated language testing agency ensures a higher degree of reliability and transparency.  FSW applicants will know from the outset how many language points will be awarded on the selection grid, and CEC applicants will know whether they meet the minimum language requirement.  Therefore, it is strongly recommended that these applicants have language test results before application.

As a lawyer to takes cases to the Federal Court of Canada, it can be said that the refusal to accept a certain level of language ability can be the subject of action at the Federal Court (for example, if a visa officer, after reviewing evidence submitted by an applicant concludes that a person is not fluent in English).  However, such a federal court case would only be successful if the conclusion reached by the visa officer was obviously wrong.

It may also be arguable that a visa officer may be unfair for refusing to award a certain number of points for English without telling the applicant about the negative finding regarding English.  The answer to this argument will likely come out after April 10 2010, and after someone is refused Canadian immigration on the basis of a self-concocted submission on English language ability, and takes that decision to the Federal Court.


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I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario Canada. I am an accomplished author and lecturer and am consulted by the media and other immigration lawyers and consultants on immigration matters and challenging immigration cases, appeals, and federal court matters.

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