Posted on - Apr 08, 2013

By Catherine Sas Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

The media was abuzz last week with several examples of people who had their citizenship applications rejected for failing to provide adequate proof of english language proficiency. The particular injustice highlighted in these refusals was that in these cases the individuals were born in the U.K. and had spent almost their entire lives in Canada pursuing their educations and careers in English in Canada yet had their applications refused for failing to provide acceptable proof of their language ability. In communicating directly with the citizenship officers they were clearly able to communicate effectively with them in English and yet their applications were still rejected for lack of objective evidence as required under the new citizenship provisions.

As of November 1, 2012, all applicants for Canadian citizenship are now required to provide proof of language ability in one of Canada’s two official languages. Proof of language ability can be established through third party test results, evidence of secondary or post secondary education, or completion of government funded language training at an adequate level.

The emphasis on language proficiency has been a key initiative of Minister Kenney over the past several years. Mandatory language testing was implemented on June 26, 2010 for all Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience Class applicants. On March 16, 2011, further regulations were introduced requiring all Business Applicants such as Investors or Self-employed Applicants to also provide test results when claiming points for language proficiency. And as of June 1, 2012, language test results are required for semi-skilled Provincial Nominee applicants.

Further in December, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney introduced changes to Canada’s federal skilled worker program, which features a points based selection system, increasing the points for language proficiency and decreasing the points for work experience. These changes will also award additional points for a spouse’s language proficiency rather than a spouse’s education.

Why this increasing emphasis on language in Canada’s Immigration and Citizenship Program? Minister Kenney has stated his case for the emphasis on language ability,

“Extensive research has consistently shown that the ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is a key factor in the success of new citizens in Canada…. We believe that it is important that new citizens be able to participate fully in our economy and in our society.”

Applicants must provide acceptable proof of language ability at the time they submit their applications Of particular concern in the citizenship cases showcased in the media last week was that these individuals were native English speakers who could very clearly communicate with citizenship department officials in both spoken and written English, yet this wasn’t taken into account by the officials in considering their application. Why is it that citizenship officials can’t take plain notice of an applicant’s language ability? The answer is really a matter of fairness, expediency and transparency to all citizenship applicants.

Consider the processing times for citizenship applications. The CIC website states that for applications processed between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012, in 80% of all cases from the time the application was received to the actual citizenship ceremony it took 23 months. 23 MONTHS! CIC’s processing standard to grant citizenship to Canadian permanent residents is two years and sometimes longer. A significant factor contributing to this lengthy process is the need for citizenship applicants to write a test and in some cases have an interview with a citizenship judge.

Interviewing applicants takes time and resources. Furthermore, an interview is a subjective process. You may think your language ability is fine but the officer or judge may not share your view. The evidence that the current rules ask for is objective and can’t be refuted by an official. If you provide the results of an accepted test, proof of education in english or french, or completion of an acceptable Canadian language course, your application will be approved so long as you meet the other requirements. It doesn’t take a long time for an officer to consider this material and the determination process can be sped up considerably. Hopefully this will allow for citizenship applications to be processed much more quickly in the future.

The need to provide third party language testing has been implemented in many aspects of the immigration process. Simply put, language proficiency has been demonstrated to enhance new immigrants and citizens to more fully integrate into Canadian society. In addition, objective evidence of language proficiency can lead to faster determination of applications and reduce processing times for Citizenship applications.


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 6 consecutive years.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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