Permanent residence

New standards in language testing

Trouble may be lurking for those who have recently applied for permanent residence under the Federal Skilled Worker Class or the Canadian Experience Class as a result of a new CIC policy relating to the assessment of language ability.

This new policy will apply to all applications received on or after April 10, 2010.

In the “old days”, visa officers assigned language points to candidates following a personal interview where the candidate was asked questions in English or French. As CIC moved away from personal interviews, visa officers started to ask for documentation to prove the applicant’s language abilities. Soon standard language testing was implemented to provide a more formal and objective assessment of a person’s ability to communicate in one of Canada’s two official languages.

In recent years the applicant maintained the choice to either submit documentary proof of their skills in English and/or French or to take an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) English language or its French equivalent, the Test d’Évaluation de Français (TEF).

Immigration lawyers and consultants often encouraged their clients to take one of these tests since it enabled them to know exactly what their clients’ language abilities were so that they can accurately determine if their clients have sufficient points to qualify for permanent residence.

Of course, asking a person who was born, educated, and employed in an English or French speaking country to take a language test made our immigration system look foolish so the option of taking a test or submitting documentary proof of language ability was preserved. However, this option was intended only for applicants “whose language ability was not in question”.

Many applicants whose first language was neither French nor English chose to submit documentary evidence rather than to submit to a test. Obviously, some of these candidates preferred not to have their language abilities objectively proven.

In November, 2008 immigration minister Jason Kenney announced an “Action Plan for Faster Immigration” which was aimed at getting applications for permanent residence processed within 12 months.

Assessing voluminous documentation on a person’s language ability was perceived as time consuming and an obstacle to meeting the one-year processing target.

On March 10, 2010 CIC announced that, effective April 10, 2010, all FSW or CEC applications will be assessed on the basis of a language test or the documentary proof “provided at the time of application”. In other words, the visa post will not solicit any further proof of language. Only the material submitted at the time of the application will be considered. If there are any doubts, clarification will not be sought and the application will be assessed “as is” as far as language is concerned.

While there is anxiety, inconvenience, time and cost in taking the IELTS test (i.e. about $265.00 if taken in Toronto), it’s still better to know where you stand than to keep your fingers crossed while your future in Canada is being determined.

Guidy Mamann, J.D. practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit this website  or email

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