IRCC has approved new language test for Canadian immigration

Shelby Thevenot, Kareem El-Assal
Published: August 2, 2022

IRCC has recently approved the designation-in-principle of a new language test for economic class immigration applicants.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) anticipates the test will be implemented by early to mid-2023.

The name of the new language test was redacted in a May 10 briefing note obtained by CIC News through an access to information request. There are currently only four designated organizations; IELTS and CELPIP for English, then TEF and TCF for French.

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IRCC says despite some initial challenges during the pandemic, the number of designated testing organizations continues to meet the demand of immigration and citizenship applicants. However, an increasing number of language test provider organizations seeking designation is cause for IRCC to seek improvements.

Currently, the process for an organization to get designated is long, complex, and “insufficiently transparent.”

The memo says IRCC will seek potential initiatives and improvements within the next 12 months. If implemented, these changes are expected to lead to even more organizations becoming interested in designation. Currently, there is no limit on the potential number of language testing providers and contractual agreements that IRCC can enter into.

The departmental roles and responsibilities related to language tests are currently not well defined and have overlapping policy and operational implications. The language designation team at IRCC, part of the Immigration Branch, has to balance file management work with advancing the new policy priorities.

Some details of the policy priorities were redacted. However, we know IRCC’s immediate priority is to complete and sign the service agreement with the unnamed company so that an official designation is issued and the implementation process can commence. The mid-term priorities include undertaking policy analysis of emerging issues. Then the long-term priorities focus on the broader review of the language designation framework, including the core technical designation criteria and the emerging evidence outcomes related to language proficiency benchmark levels.

IRCC assessing aligning the CLBs with CEFR

IRCC is currently looking into the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB), as some are concerned that it is too granular for testing purposes compared to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Instead of scoring on a scale of one to seven, CEFR test-takers get scored on an alphanumeric scale: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.

The memo says further research is required on the CLB levels to ensure that all approved language test constructs are equivalent in the level of difficulty and test purpose.

French testing must not be left out, IRCC says

The policy intent and design of these initiatives would need to be aligned and in accordance with other department priorities, especially IRCC’s mandate to support francophone immigration across the country.

“There will likely be more demand on French designated organizations to increase testing capacity, and greater interest from new French testing organizations seeking designation,” the memo says. “While organizations delivering the TEF and TCF are prepared to meet growing demand, this work will better position the Department for any potential increase in demand, including through a more efficient process for designation of additional French language tests.”

A brief history of language tests

Since 2010, IRCC has only accepted language test results from designated organizations as evidence of language proficiency.

The current approach to only accept test results from designated independent testing organizations was intended to allow immigration applicants to prove their language abilities while at the same time ensuring a fair and transparent process.

The immigration minister has the authority to designate any language testing organization and to approve a specific language test for the purpose of evaluating the language proficiency of immigration applicants. This role has been delegated to the Director of Economic Immigration Programs and Policies.

While the immigration regulations provide the framework for the designation of organizations, the designation process was established by the department based on different factors, including regulatory requirements, policy and program objectives, as well as operational needs. Any language testing organization can seek designation by providing a submission demonstrating how they meet IRCC’s criteria.

Who needs a language test?

Most of Canada’s economic class immigration programs require that candidates complete a designated language test in English or French. The rationale behind testing language competency is that Canadian government research shows language proficiency is a major determinant of an immigrant’s ability to establish in Canada’s economy.

Family and refugee class immigrants do not need to complete a language test since they are admitted to Canada for social and humanitarian purposes.

Upon applying for Canadian citizenship, individuals between the ages of 18 and 54 need to demonstrate their English or French language competency. They may submit the results of a language test, or demonstrate their proficiency in other ways approved by IRCC.

While temporary foreign workers do not need to demonstrate their language proficiency, international students must do so to provide evidence they will be able to flourish in Canadian academic settings. Rules for demonstrating language proficiency vary by each Canadian designated learning institution, but the Canadian government has its own rules on which language tests it accepts as part of the study permit approval process.

Next steps

The Immigration Branch of IRCC will develop forward-looking actions aimed at improving the language designation framework.

The key actions to support IRCC’s ongoing priorities include a review of the designation process to increase efficiency and transparency, improving public facing as well as internal communication as it relates to overall framework and garnering interest for additional French language testing organizations.

In response to the growing demand for language testing, the Immigration Branch will also explore the feasibility of establishing a language designation program with dedicated management and program functions and sufficient capacity to support a more streamlined and coherent approach to language testing. A dedicated program would help IRCC expand its policy while maintaining the current open intake approach to language testing designation.

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