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.


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.



IELTS Tests Mandatory for British and French

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Yes. Just what are they speaking in England?  Apparently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) is not too sure, and will now be requiring that all British people and French people take language tests to prove that they speak either English or French if the immigration program that they are using requires proof of language.

So to the people of England, you may have invented the language, but as your former colony, we’re putting you on notice that we’re not quite sure how well you speak it.

And to the international student who graduated from a Canadian university with a honours degree in English, well, we’re sorry, but we’re not confident that our universities know how to teach the language.

Imagine the scene at the reception area of a French testing center in Paris where Parisians have to pay and sit an exam to prove that their French is sufficient for Quebec.

And to those that have said that this brings Canada in line with the practices of our “competitors,” including the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, a quick glance at their laws reveals that no it doesn’t.

Australia exempts applicant’s whose native language is English and who are passport holders of the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, or New Zealand.

The UK exempts applicants who are nationals of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the former British West Indies from taking language tests.

New Zealand exempts applicants who have a post-secondary qualification taught entirely in English, and applicants who have worked in skilled employment in New Zealand for at least 12 months.

And do you know why these countries have these exemptions? Because it’s so obvious that they’ll pass the English test that they don’t want to insult their potential immigrants by making them pay and sit an English test.

Learn the Language

The following blog post appeared in the June 2012 edition of Canadian Immigrant Magazine.

It is generally recognized that proficiency in either English or French is essential if newcomers to Canada wish to be economically successful here.  While immigrants who cannot converse in one of Canada’s official languages may find some employers who are willing to hire them, their career mobility is limited relative to those who can.  Indeed, numerous recent studies reveal that an immigrant’s language proficiency is perhaps the most important indicator of economic success.

The Government of Canada has taken note of these studies, and has begun implanting language requirements for numerous immigration programs.

The Canadian Language Benchmark

The Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) is the national standard used in Canada for measuring the English language proficiency of adult immigrants and prospective immigrants. It covers four skill areas: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  Individuals are ranked in these areas on a scale of 1-12.

The Canadian government generally recognizes two tests for measuring an applicant’s CLB level; the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP).  While both use different scales than the CLB (the IELTS runs on a scale of 1-9, and the CELPIP runs on a scale of 0 – 6), their test scores correspond to CLB levels.

Current Immigration Programs With Language Testing

The Canadian Experience Class is the main immigration program that currently requires language testing.  For English speaking applicants, the IELTS is the only test that is accepted in this program.  There are numerous combinations of IELTS scores that applicants can obtain to meet the program’s requirements.  While these vary depending on work experience, a good rule of thumb is that individuals with work experience in management occupations or occupations which require a university degree should score 7 or above in each of speaking, listening, reading, and writing, while those with experience in other skilled occupations should score 5 or above.

There is no minimum language threshold for Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), also known as the points system.  However, individuals who wish to receive points for English language ability must provide either IELTS or CELPIP results.  Most FSWP applicants submit test results as the 67 point threshold required to immigrate under the program much makes it difficult to qualify without points for language proficiency.

Individuals applying in the Investor, Entrepreneur, or Self-Employed category who wish to receive points for English language ability also need to submit IELTS or CELPIP results.  However, as the point threshold to immigrate under these programs is only 35, most applicants don’t.

New Language Testing Requirements

The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) has traditionally been exempted from language testing requirements.  However, starting July 1, 2012, PNP applicants with work experience in semi- or low-skilled professions will have to meet minimum language requirements.  Applicants taking the IELTS will be required to obtain a minimum of 4 in each of speaking, listening, reading, and writing.  Applicants taking the CELPIP will be required to obtain a minimum of 2H.  It is important to note that any temporary foreign worker who arrives in Canada on or before July 1, 2012, and who subsequently gets nominated by a province no later than July 1, 2013, will be exempted from this change.

The other area soon to have mandatory language testing is citizenship.  Traditionally, the government tested language ability through the Citizenship Exam.  However, it will soon require that citizenship applicants submit proof of proficiency in either English or French with their applications. For English speakers, acceptable means of proof will include IELTS or CELPIP results (with the same threshold as the above-mentioned PNP applicants), evidence of completion of secondary or post-secondary education in English, or evidence of completion, and achievement of a certain level, in a government-funded language training program.

Learn English or French

For a long while now I have recommended to clients that they endeavor to learn English or French.  Many ignored my suggestion as they were able to immigrate to Canada without submitting proof of language proficiency.  The ability to do this is gradually diminishing.  The Canadian government has already announced that language testing will soon be required for all PNP applicants.  It has also raised concerns regarding foreign workers being unable to communicate with emergency response providers, and I would not be surprised if language standards were soon implemented in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.  I would be astonished if language testing was introduced in the Family Class or for refugees, however, considering that the UK government recently introduced language requirements in its spousal-sponsorship program, you never know.

So please, if you want to immigrate to Canada, the best thing that you can do to increase your chances is to learn either English or French.