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Mandatory language tests and Canadian immigration

The government has announced that it will be requiring language tests for some immigrants in order to ensure that they will have an improved chance of improving their integration to Canadian society much sooner than is expected.
In an interview Immigration minister Jason Kenney said that new immigration applicants will be required to take an English or French language exam to prove their basic proficiency  in one of the official languages of Canada.

In the shape of things to come, even provincial nominees will not be spared from the requirement . This is in contrast to the previous practice where some applicants were exempted from this requirement if they can show that they undertook a study course conducted in English . At this stage the government is closing a loophole that has been easily used by immigrants who could enter Canada without showing a basic proficiency for either English or French.

Speaking from personal experience as an IELTS coach , I believe that the IELTS is the best language proficiency exam for determining language proficiency in the four important communication skills namely listening , reading ,writing  and speaking . While I think IELTS is the best , it is not perfect . However, it has qualities that make it ideal for the purpose of determining whether an applicant can actually communicate  at a certain level required for immigration. It fulfills most of the requirements for an ideal test such as availability in most places in the world, integrity of both the process and the exam, and an evaluation process that simulates almost all the real life language situations that a test taker will experience when living , studying or working in an English’s peaking country.

My only beef with the IELTS is that it has  some subjective modules that are prone to human errors or biases inherent in a process that gives an actual live examiner some leeway in giving out scores based on guidelines that can and are easily abused or not complied with.

The government is  correct in imposing these language exams and my only question is why they did not impose these in the first place. As mentioned in the article “studies have shown that the ability to communicate is one of the biggest factors that would determine the economic and social advancement of an immigrant. Personally I think you do not need a study a study to confirm something as elementary and obvious as that.

From a practical point of view knowing the language of the country that you are migrating to will enable you to participate in the political , social, economic and community life of that country. There are scores of pocket communities or the so called “ghettoes” of particular migrant communities where a person can migrate from the mother country , go straight to that  ethnic community  to live and die there  without having to speak a word of English because for all intents and purposes they don’t have to . The issue is, why should Canada accept these immigrants who by their lack of willingness or inclination will not be able to participate in Canadian society?

While it is the stated policy of Canada to develop a multicultural and vibrant nation where the different languages of its immigrants are allowed and encouraged to flourish it is important to note that this policy should be compatible with the stated policy of bilingualism that of  having both English and French as the official language of country.
Implementing this policy will have some consequences both intended and unintended. The positive affect would be it would speed up the integration process of immigrants in Canadian Society but the other consequence would be to narrow the sources of immigrants  and workers to the very educated ( India , Philippines ) or to native speakers from English speaking countries such as the US, UK, Australia , New Zealand.

From a bureaucratic point of view this is an effective and efficient tool for economic or social integration but from the point of view of race and ethnicity , this policy will ensure that most of the future new immigrants will be coming from the preferred feeder countries of a western , liberal and white background.

Thus,  with a stroke of the pen ,the government has achieved the almost impossible by bringing us back to the early days of Canadian immigration policy where the primary source of immigrants was from Europe or western countries. And all these ,without having to be accused of racism and discrimination.

Tony Santiago
Immigration Program Student at Ashton College
under the tutelage of Jose Godoy Toku

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