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Stricter Language Requirements for Citizenship will Create Two Classes of Applicants, Associate Cathryn Sawicki Tells iPolitics

In the October 16, 2011 issue of iPolitics, Green and Spiegel LLP Senior Associate Cathryn Sawicki expressed concern that Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) proposed stricter language requirements for citizenship will create two classes of citizenship applicants: those who have had the privilege of an education and those—often refugees or family class individuals—who may not have had that opportunity but who would still contribute to Canada.

Under the proposed changes to the Citizenship Regulations announced by CIC last month, all adult citizenship applicants (individuals between the ages of 18 and 54) would be required to provide evidence along with their applications showing that they have achieved at least Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level 4 in one of Canada’s official languages. Such evidence could include third-party language tests or alternative evidence such as the completion of secondary or post-secondary education in French or English. According to CIC, the current approach of assessing language skills through a multiple choice written test “does not adequately assess listening and speaking skills, which are essential language skills for effective communication with fellow Canadians and for effective integration.”

Commenting on the proposed changes, Sawicki noted that they will primarily affect refugees, family class immigrants and those allowed to immigrate to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds as, under other recent rule changes, most other classes of immigrants already have to pass a language test before being allowed to come to Canada. Sawicki observed that, if implemented, the changes will make it harder for some individuals to become Canadian citizens: “Sometimes you have individuals who are illiterate. So they may not do very well on the written test but perhaps their ability in spoken English is much better so when they go to the hearing they do better there. It may not be Canadian Language Benchmark 4 but that does not mean that they should not be given this privilege.”

Sawicki also expressed concern that language testing creates two classes of newcomers to Canada: “It’s creating a divide in society between the individuals who are highly educated; between those who have had the privilege of education and the luxury of being able to learn to read and write versus refugees or family class individuals who may not have had the same privilege but still contribute to society.”

For further information on CIC’s proposed changes to the language requirements for citizenship, please contact the immigration law specialists at Green and Spiegel LLP.