MPs lobby to ease language rules for immigrants [citizenship]

More coverage on the issue of language assessment for citizenship applicants. Will see if this gets attention when Parliament resumes next week:

One critic said if McCallum agrees with the MPs to make the changes it’s a “retrograde” step.

Martin Collacott said the real goal is likely to boost the pool of Liberal voters, since the only key rights citizens have that permanent residents lack is the right to vote, obtain a passport, and obtain jobs that require a high-level security clearance.

“They’re more concerned with getting votes and not so concerned that they (new Canadians) will integrate socially and economically,” said Collacott, a former senior Canadian diplomat who writes on immigration and refugee issues for the Fraser Institute.

Griffith said says the MPs are sincerely reflecting the views of some constituents.

“Of course there is probably a political element there, of making sure they retain the ethnic vote they gained during the election, but I think they’re probably hearing those comments,” said Griffith, author of the 2015 book called Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote.

Griffith said he hopes McCallum doesn’t give in to the pressure and go back to the old system, which fell short of requiring citizens to speak basic English or French.

“If you really want to help people succeed, and if you really want an inclusive society, it means they have to participate in one of the official languages,” he said.

An alternative view was expressed in 2014 by the Canadian Bar Association, which opposed the tougher requirements.

“Many immigrants over the last century came to Canada and worked in areas that did not require them to read or write in English or French but have paid taxes, attended religious institutions, volunteered in their communities, raised children and have little or no ties to their country of birth,” the statement said. “They may lack the ability to complete a knowledge test in English or French, but still possess the language skills needed to be a long-term, contributing member of Canadian society.”

Successful citizenship applicants now have to prove they have an “adequate knowledge” of one of the languages, which is defined as someone “can understand someone speaking English or French and they can understand you,” according to the Citizenship and Immigration website. It lists several tests that it accepts as proof.

The government spells out four criteria applicants must provide evidence that they’ve reached level 4 of the “Canadian Language Benchmarks” system, which has 12 levels of proficiency, with one being the least fluent and 12 being an “advanced level of proficiency.”

To reach level four they must, according to the department, be able to:

• take part in short, everyday conversations about common topics.

• understand simple instructions, questions and directions.

• use basic grammar, including simple structures and tenses.

• show that you know enough common words and phrases to answer questions and express yourself.”

Canada has had a legislated requirement since 1947 that new citizens have an “adequate knowledge” of English or French, and until the mid-1990s that ability was assessed in oral citizenship tests done by citizenship judges.

Then the Liberal government, which at the time was engaged in an austerity program to slash the deficit, came up with a standardized, and much cheaper to administer, citizenship test.

The test involved 20 multiple choice questions testing knowledge in areas such as citizens’ rights and duties, and Canadian history, geography and the economy. It was assumed that passing the test would mean the applicant also had a reasonable grasp of the language.

But a successful applicant required only a 60-per-cent score to pass, resulting in 95 per cent of participants making the grade, according to a 2012 analysis by Montreal academic Mireille Paquet.

One of the problems with the tests, according to Griffith, is that they were uniform. That meant consultants could provide “cheat sheets” to help people who couldn’t function in English or French memorize the questions and visually recognize the correct answers.

The Conservatives made their first move in 2010 to make the test more challenging, bumping the passing grade to 75 per cent and offering different versions of the test in order to discourage cheating.

Then, in 2014, the new legislation came in requiring that applicants get third-party certification that they reached the level 4 proficiency.

Source: MPs lobby to ease language rules for immigrants

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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