Last Updated on June 8, 2012 by Steven Meurrens

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.