Proposed Citizenship Act amendment: Upfront evidence of language ability required

October 18, 2011

On October 15, 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has published notice in the Canada Gazette with respect to a proposed amendment of the Citizenship Regulations (Regulations). If passed, the amendment will require adult applicants to provide upfront evidence of their official language ability when they submit their citizenship application.

Under the amendment, the applicants will be required to achieve an official language level equivalent to the Canadian Language Benchmark 4, and furnish such evidence with their citizenship application. Acceptable evidence includes:

(a)   third-party language tests, such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TEF (Test d’Evaluation de Français);

(b)   proof of completion of secondary or post-secondary education in French or English; and

(c)   achievement of a certain level in a language training course like the federally funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC).

Toronto immigration lawyer Jeff Li believes that the amendment will make it tougher for people to acquire Canadian citizenship. At present, applicants’ language ability is largely assessed through a multiple choice written test which also assesses an applicant’s knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. If an applicant fails the written test, or if concerns about their speaking or listening ability are flagged following oral interactions with a citizenship official, the applicant is referred for an interview with a citizenship judge. However, CIC considers the current system as inadequate in assessing the applicants’ language ability and inefficient in the referral process to a citizenship judge. With the new system, applicants must furnish “hard” language evidence right at the beginning. For many citizenship applicants who did not receive secondary or post-secondary education in English or French, passing the required language test or course could be a challenge, and this is in addition to the current citizenship knowledge test requirement.

There are also questions concerning the specification of the Canadian Language Benchmark 4 in the language requirement. Is such a benchmark equivalent to the “adequate knowledge” of English or French required under the Citizenship Act? If such a benchmark is accepted, how will CIC determine the equivalent level in IELTS or TEF? Disagreement in these issues may give rise to legal challenges to the changes.

While there are valid reasons behind the proposed amendment, Jeff Li believes that the change will have disproportional impacts on communities whose members are not native English or French speakers. Among them, people who are sponsored as a family member (whose official language ability is not an assessment factor in their immigration application) and who did not receive English or French education will be hit the hardest.

CIC is currently seeking comments on the proposed amendment. Any person, including interested groups and individuals may give comments and opinions by November 15, 2011. Jeff Li calls on affected people and immigrant groups to voice their concerns so that they can be heard. Comments and questions regarding the proposed amendment should be directed to:

Mary-Ann Hubers

Acting Director

Citizenship Legislation and Program Policy,

Citizenship and Immigration Canada

180 Kent Street, 6th Floor

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1

Tel: 613-998-1756

Fax: 613-991-2485



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