Heightened proficiency in English and French among recent immigrants indicates greater potential for success in Canada

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: February 3, 2023

According to the 2021 Canadian census, which was released in Q4 2022, more than 9 in 10 people who immigrated to Canada between 2016 and 2021 reported being able to conduct a conversation in English or French.

Although most recent immigrants (69.4%) reported non-official languages as their mother tongue, 92.7% of people in this group self-reported being able to conversate in one of Canada’s two official languages.

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Additionally, census data reveals that 62.3% of recent immigrants with non-official languages as their mother tongue said that they speak either English or French at home, either alone or with another language.

Why is official language proficiency so important?

Official language proficiency has historically been a signal that newcomers to Canada are more likely to find success in this country.

Evidence of this can be found in the emphasis placed on official language proficiency by the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) when scoring Express Entry candidates. As one of the primary methods of immigration to this country, Canada prioritizes the ability of Express Entry hopefuls to speak, conversate, read and write in English and/or French. In fact, CRS scoring provides a maximum of 320 (with spouse/partner) or 310 (without spouse/partner) points to Express Entry applicants for first official language proficiency. This means that the ability to speak one of Canada’s official languages can significantly impact one’s CRS score.

What does this mean for recent newcomers to Canada?

The heightened proficiency in English and French among recent Canadian immigrants suggests, in line with the above, that they are better suited now than ever to succeed in Canada.

A March 2020 report from Statistics Canada (StatsCan) outlines that language ability is a primary factor in boosting Canadian immigrants' short-term, medium-term, and long-term earnings.

In the first one to two years of immigrating to Canada, StatsCan research indicates that “those who had a non-official language as their mother tongue (but who spoke English) earned 29% less than” native English or French speakers. This would suggest that with better official language proficiency, recent immigrants between 2016 and 2021 are positioned to experience higher earnings than those who cannot conversate in English or French.

The same is true in the medium-term (five to six years after immigration) and long-term (10 to 11 years after immigrating to Canada), according to StatsCan. Research participants with either of Canada’s official languages as a mother tongue experienced 42% higher earnings in the medium-term window than non-native speakers and long-term earnings were 35% higher for those more adept in English or French.

Again, it can therefore be reasoned that, due to their ability to have a conversation in English or French, the 92.7% of recent immigrants who fall into this group have a better chance of success in Canada than they would without such ability.

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