Almost every category of economic immigration to Canada requires a language test. However, the type of test and score needed depends on the specific program people apply under. As a bilingual country, Canada has two official languages: French and English. Nearly, 98% of Canada’s population speak English, French, or both. Since 2010, Immigration Canada has only accepted language test results from designated organizations as evidence of language proficiency. Currently, there are only four designated organizations; International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) for English, then Test D’évaluation de Français (TEF) and Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) for French. For Canadian immigration determinations, applicants must provide language test results from one of these authorized organizations to prove their language abilities. There is however no preferred test. Since results from all these tests are valued equally, applicants can decide to take the test which is most convenient for them. However, the results must be from within the last two years to be valid.
Depending on the province applicants choose to move to, either a French or an English test will be part of the requirements for their application. An applicant’s individual level of English or French proficiency has a major impact on the overall points that they are given and consequently on their chances of a successful application as language scores will significantly boost their candidature for a Canadian visa. The same applies to most educational institutions and universities in Canada.
For Ghanaians looking to move to Canada, IELTS is most commonly accepted as proof of English language ability for study, work and immigration. It is the English test of choice for educational organisations, professional associations and employers across Canada. In fact, all universities and colleges in Canada accept IELTS, as well as all professional associations. IELTS assesses English proficiency on a scale from 1 to 9 in four skills: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. Applicants have a choice of two test types – IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training – depending on the requirements set by the organisation where they plan to work or study. For instance, students who wish to pursue higher education must take IELTS Academic while those who wish to immigrate to Canada for employment reasons can choose the General Training option.
Most Canadian economic immigration programs have a minimum language requirement either for French or English, but they are not all the same. Economic immigrants are people selected for their skills and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy. This group includes skilled workers, business immigrants, provincial and territorial nominees and live-in caregivers. The score applicants need will depend on the program they are applying to. Applicant’s proficiency in English or French is one of the six selection factors for skilled workers. Applications are assessed and given up to 24 points based on their ability to speak, write, listen and read. For instance, R200(3)(a) states that: “An officer shall not issue a work permit to a foreign national if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the foreign national is unable to perform the work sought.” In this case, an immigration officer will have to consider language as part of the applicant’s ability to perform the job.
In addition to language proficiency, points are also awarded for age, work experience, and education. The Canadian government uses the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to evaluates each candidate based on their human capital. In other words, those who have the best chance to succeed in the Canadian job market. Canada looks at a candidate’s age, education, English and/or French skills, work experience, among other criteria. Applicants are awarded extra points if they have relevant proficiency in both English and French.
As mentioned earlier, language proficiency is a very important deciding factor. In fact, if an applicant can speak French, they will be able to immigrate to Canada even easier due to their language skills. As of October 2020, the Canadian government announced new changes to the Express Entry (CRS) system where French-speaking candidates will now receive 25 additional points for their language skills. Therefore, in order to improve ranking in the Express Entry pool, scoring well on one of Canada’s accepted French language exams can significantly increase applicants Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score and therefore their chances of getting a visa. However, there are provincial immigration programs that have lower language proficiency requirements for the in-demand occupation applicants. For example, through Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), provinces can select eligible candidate from the Express entry pool even with a low IELTS score ranging between CLB 4-6.
Also, those with a valid job offer from an employer who can prove that their level of language is sufficient to fulfill their job duties, can apply for a work permit without IELTS. In this case, there is no legal requirement that applicants must write an English language test or a French language test in order to obtain a work permit. That is of course, if the employer does not ask for IELTS score, then the applicant does not need IELTS to get their temporary resident visa to work.
For students, language requirements are a little different. Study permit is basically the term used in Canada to refer to a student visa. A study permit is a document issued by Canadian immigration authorities that serves as a permission for foreign students to study in Canada. However, the study permit is not a visa. It doesn’t allow applicants to enter Canada. Applicants also need a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA). Once the immigration authorities approve a study permit, the visa is also granted. Every year, over hundreds of thousands of international students are admitted into Canada to study. In 2021, the government of Canada granted 450,000 international students a Canadian student visa. This year we are expecting even more due to the relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.
For international students, Canada is a fantastic choice. This is because studying in Canada offers lots of opportunities. It offers the opportunity to specialise in a particular field or gain employment once the student has finished their education. As such, students can apply for a work permit to gain valuable work experience after their studies via the Post Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). This program requires no work experience and will present an applicant with a work permit. Once they gain a year of work experience, students can apply for permanent residency via the Canada Experience Class (CEC), a program under the Express Entry Immigration Program. This program allows immigrants who have been living in Canada for the last 12 months, the opportunity to gain permanent residency in Canada. However, Canadian study permits will only be issued to foreign nationals who can prove that they will be studying at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). This is where the language proficiency test differs from the economic immigration class. Each university and programme have different requirements when it comes to establishing language proficiency. Generally, most schools and programs do not need you to do an English language test if you have studies in an English language environment. Some schools and programs may still need language testing, even if the majority do not need testing, therefore it is important to verify the requirements of each program carefully. The only way applicants can avoid the language test is to apply by enrolling in language courses with subsequent enrolment to a full-time study program.
Furthermore, family and refugee class immigrants do not need to complete a language test since they are admitted to Canada for social and humanitarian purposes. For instance, if an applicant has a relative who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, they can sponsor their relative to become a permanent resident in Canada. In this case, a language test is not required to immigrate to Canada.
Finally, the easiest way to visit Canada without the language test is get a tourist visa. Regardless of the government requirements, language skills are very important for settling and integrating into Canadian life. All applicants are encouraged to obtain proficiency either in English or French depending on the province they plan to move to in order to increase their chances of approval and ensure a successful integration within the Canadian community and life. The good news is that applicants don’t necessarily need to be fluent in either English or French language to successfully apply for immigration to Canada. The level of language proficiency depends on the immigration program through which they choose to apply to for Canada.