Every application for Canadian immigration made through an economic immigration program is, in some way, unique. One thing that the majority of principal applicants share in common, however, is the experience of proving language ability. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) affirms that the ability to communicate in one or both of Canada’s two official languages is key to finding employment and ensuring a smooth transition into Canadian life.
To help certify that prospective immigrants arrive in Canada with the language skills needed to succeed, many Canadian immigration programs require that applicants prove their ability to communicate in English and/or French by submitting results of a standardized language test recognised by the government of Canada.
Assessing proficiency: Canadian Language Benchmarks
English and French language proficiency, for immigration purposes, is assessed according to the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) system. This ranks language proficiency for each of the four language skills, namely speaking, reading, writing, and listening. CLBs range from 1 to 12, with levels 1 to 4 considered a ‘basic’ level of proficiency, 5 to 8 considered ‘intermediate’, and 9 to 12 considered ‘advanced’.
An individual’s proficiency is determined using results from a test issued by a designated organization. There are two designated organizations for English language testing:
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS),
- Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
CELPIP tests may only be taken within Canada, whereas IELTS tests are held in various locations around the world, including Canada. For French language testing, the only accepted test for federal economic immigration programs is the Test d’Evaluation de Français (TEF).
The brand new Canada Immigration Language Converter is a tool that allows users to convert a range of test scores into their equivalent CLBs and vice versa. This simple tool also provides a description of each CLB per language ability, allowing users to gauge how and where they may improve their language skills, sit a language test with confidence, and continue along the path toward immigrating to Canada.
Language requirements for Express Entry
All applicants to an immigration program processed through CIC’s Express Entry immigration selection system are required to prove language ability. Additional ranking points under the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) may be awarded to eligible candidates who prove language ability in both English and French.
Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) applicants must prove that they meet or exceed a minimum threshold in all four language abilities. This threshold is set at CLB 7, defined as ‘adequate-intermediate’ proficiency.
Applicants to the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FTSP) do not require the same level of language proficiency as applicants to the FSWP. However, they must submit language test results equivalent to or greater than level of CLB 5 for speaking and listening, and CLB 4 for reading and writing.
Language requirements under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), which provides a route to Canadian permanent residence for individuals with skilled work experience in Canada, depend on the applicant’s occupation as classified under the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. If the skilled work experience in Canada is in a NOC 0 or A occupation, the minimum level required is CLB 7. For NOC B occupations, the minimum level is CLB 5.
Provincial Nominee Programs
In Canada, the federal government and the provinces and territories share jurisdiction over the selection of immigrants, with provinces and territories having the ability to select a certain number of newcomers based on local labour market needs. These are the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).
Provinces and territories are able to nominate a certain allocation of candidates for immigration processing through the Express Entry system. These are known as ‘enhanced’ PNPs. Regardless of any additional criteria that may be in place for a given PNP, candidates processed through Express Entry must also meet the language requirements of the federal economic immigration program (FSW, FST or CEC) for which they are eligible.
Whether or not language testing is a requirement for a ‘base’ PNP immigration stream processed outside the Express Entry system depends on the province and stream itself. Click here for an overview of the PNPs, including eligibility criteria for each participating province and territory.
Language points: potential difference makers for skilled workers
Along with having minimum requirements for language, several Canadian immigration programs reward candidates who demonstrate higher proficiency.
In terms of eligibility, the FSW program awards as many as 24 points out of the required 67 to candidates who demonstrate a CLB of 9 or higher in English or French.
Express Entry has made language test results more important than ever before. Under the CRS, language ability is the most valuable human capital factor. First language proficiency in English or French can count for up to 136 first language points for a single applicant and towards another 100 points when considered in combination with other factors.
During the most recent Express Entry draw, the CRS score required in order to obtain an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence was 453. Improving one language score could be the difference between succeeding and failing to receive an ITA, even for candidates who satisfy the minimum requirements for Canadian immigration.
Several provinces, such as Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec also have immigration programs that assign points for different language levels.
Language requirements for immigration to Quebec
The province of Quebec, which holds jurisdiction over its own economic immigration policy, is different when it comes to proving language ability for immigration.
Applicants to the Quebec Skilled Worker Program (QSWP), a points-based program that is due to reopen through a new online application system later this year, are not necessarily required to submit language test results. Language proficiency is but one of a number of selection factors, with others including age, work experience, and area of training.
Applicants to the Programme de l’expérience Québécoise (PEQ, or Quebec Experience Program) must show that they have successfully completed an advanced-intermediate level French course at a Quebec educational institution, if their studies were not completed in French, or prove French ability by way of a standardized language test recognized by the government of Quebec. Alternatively, foreign workers with Quebec work experience can show that they have satisfied the French language requirements of the professional order governing their occupation in Quebec.
What candidates can do to prepare
“Immigrants who arrive in Canada with sufficient language skills will find themselves well placed to take advantage of all the opportunities their new home has to offer, but getting to that stage may require practice, followed by the language test itself. Part of the whole process involves gathering information about how language testing is performed and what the results mean,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“Over my many years of experience in assisting candidates to prepare their Canadian immigration applications, I have often been asked questions such as ‘what is the CLB for 7.5 in listening in IELTS?’ or ‘is my TEF score good enough for the Federal Skilled Worker Program?’ To help find people simple answers to these sorts of questions instantaneously, my team and I developed the Canada Immigration Language Converter. I am confident that this unique tool will help many people as they embark on their path to immigrating to Canada.”
To find out if you are eligible for any of over 60 Canadian immigration programs, please fill out a free online assessment today. Readers with questions concerning language requirements for Canadian immigration are encouraged to consult the Canada Immigration Language Converter.
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