Language Requirements for Immigration (IR-11)

During the time that I have been writing this blog the most frequently asked question that readers have asked me is whether their IELTS band scores are sufficient for certain immigration programs.  Some people have even offered to book initial consultations with me just so that I would review their IELTS scores.  This has always been somewhat surprising to me given that the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) website publishes each of its program’s respective language requirements in a clear and concise manner.

Indeed, it is not just members of the general public that seem to be confused.  As shown in the exchange below, which I obtained through an Access to Information Act request, some immigration lawyers are unclear of the requirements.  (Please note that what I have reproduced below should not be viewed as legal advice.  The reproduction of question and answer has not occurred with the affiliation of the Government of Canada, nor with the endorsement of the Government of Canada.)

Question – May 21, 2013

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I have been referred to your office, by Karen Flynn, of NHQ-Immigration in Ottawa, her phone number is _______.

I practice immigration law in Toronto, and I have the following question, regarding the Federal Skilled Worker Class, in light of the recent changes, in effect, as of May 4, 2013:

  • the IETLS benchmark is CLB 7, i.e. 6 points, for each ability. If the results of a foreign national are, for example, in 1, or 2, or 3 abilities in the CLB 8 or higher, but 1 ability, or 2, or 3, are at CLB 7level, can I give 5 or more points per ability, for the CLB 8, or higher, and 4 points, for the CLB 7 result, or once one of the results is in the CLB 7 area, all abilities can only receive 6 points, i.e. 16 points.

Basically, can I give points for each ability depending on where the ability is in the CLB range, e.g. 2 abilities are 6.0, and 2 abilities are 6.5, is the assessment 18 points or 16 points?

I look forward to your response.

Best regards,

Answer – May 22, 2013

Thank you for your inquiry.

As of May 4, 2013, all applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker Class must demonstrate that they meet the minimum language proficiency threshold of CLB 7 in all four language abilities.

As outlined in section 11.2 of the OP 6C operational manual, officers will award points for first official language proficiency based on the applicant’s demonstrated CLB level per language ability. For example, an applicant who had obtained CLB 7 in two language abilities and CLB 8 in the other two language abilities would be awarded a total of 18 points for first official language proficiency (4 points for each language ability in which their proficiency meets the minimum threshold+ 5 points for each language ability in which their proficiency exceeds the minimum threshold by one benchmark level).

There are three aspects of CIC’s response to the question above that I wish to elaborate on.  The first is where individuals can locate information about a program’s language requirements on the CIC website.  The second is the distinction between the Canadian Language Benchmark (“CLB”) and the IELTS bandscores, and how to calculate equivalence.  Finally, I will also address whether there are language requirements to becoming a temporary foreign worker.

The Languages Manual

The CIC website publishes all of its publicly available program manuals on its website here.  While there are some private manuals that can only be accessed through Access to Information Act requests, they probably only significantly impact to 5 – 10% of people interact with CIC. 

Operational bulletins and manuals - language

As shown in the image above, in order to simply its language requirements, CIC has consolidated its language requirements into a single, online manual on its website.  The languages manual is divided into the following sections:

Except for the language requirements for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (“TFWP”), which is discussed below, the manuals above comprehensively describe most of the language requirements for CIC’s various programs.

CLB vs. IELTS

It is important that prospective applicants distinguish between their IELTS scores and the CLB.  This can be especially confusing to people considering that the scoring system looks similar.

The CLB is the national standard used in Canada for describing, measuring, and recognizing the English language proficiency of adult immigrants and prospective immigrants for living and working in Canada. It classifies English language ability according to 13 language benchmarks.

The IELTS are one of the language tests that the Respondent has designated as being an acceptable test to asses an applicant’s CLB.  There are nine IELTS band levels, and CIC has produced numerous charts on its website showing equivalencies of the 9 IELTS bands to the 13 CLB levels.

Language test equivalency charts

The distinction is important.  I occasionally meet individuals who did not apply for the Canadian Experience Class (“CEC”) because they were told that they needed a 5.0 in all language abilities.  While this is technically true, the “5.0 requirement” refers to CLB, not IELTS.  As shown above, an IELTS Listening Score of 4.0 is equal to a CLB score of 5.0.  Hence, these individuals erred in assuming that they were not eligible.  As the CEC has application caps, delaying applying to unnecessarily re-write the IELTS can have significant detrimental consequences.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Many people mistakenly assume that the TFWP does not have language requirements.  Work Permit applicants accordingly often question CIC’s authority to request proof of language ability during the Work Permit application process, which is becoming increasingly common.

Section 8.3 of the CIC’s Temporary Foreign Worker Manual states:

 R 200 (3) (a) states that:

“An officer shall not issue a work permit to a foreign national if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the foreign national is unable to perform the work sought.”

Immigration officers should not limit their assessment of language, or other requirements to perform the work sought, solely to those described in the Labour Market Opinion (LMO). However, the language requirement stated in the LMO should be part of the officer’s assessment of the applicant’s ability to perform the specific work sought because it is the employer’s assessment on the language requirement(s) for the job.

Additionally, the officer can consider:

  • the specific work conditions and any arrangements the employer has made or has undertaken to make to accommodate the applicant’s limited ability in English or French and to address potential safety concerns if any; and
  • terms in the actual job offer, in addition to general requirements set out in the National Occupational Classification (NOC) description for the occupation. This is applied in assessing the extent to which weak official language skills could compromise the applicant’s “ability to perform the work sought”

An officer should NOT consider perceived challenges the applicant might face in interacting with the broader community, such as availing him/herself of community services, if this is not relevant to their job performance. Such a consideration is beyond the scope of the current legislation.

The same principles respecting official language capability and the applicant’s ability to perform the work sought apply irrespective of the skill level of the intended occupation. There is no separate standard or criteria for applicants at NOC skill levels C or D.

An applicant’s language ability can be assessed through an interview or official testing such as IELTS/TEF or in-house mission testing practice. In deciding to require proof of language ability, the officer’s notes should refer to the LMO requirements, working conditions as described in the job offer and NOC requirements for the specific occupation, in determining what precise level of language requirement is necessary to perform the work sought. System notes must clearly indicate the officer’s language assessment, and in the case of a refusal, clearly show a detailed analysis on how the applicant failed to satisfy the officer that h/she would be able to perform the work sought.

 

 


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