English profs not amused by Canada’s immigration pop quiz

Sara Landreth and her husband, James Brooke-Smith, teach English literature at the University of Ottawa. Both have doctorates in English literature, but Canada's immigration rules require each of them to take a $280 test proving they are fluent in the language.

Sara Landreth and her husband, James Brooke-Smith, teach English literature at the University of Ottawa. Both have doctorates in English literature, but Canada’s immigration rules require each of them to take a $280 test proving they are fluent in the language. Brigitte Bouvier for The Globe and Mail

New rules require a $280 language test, even if you hold a PhD in literature

Joe Friesen

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/english-profs-not-amused-by-canadas-immigration-pop-quiz/article1655367/

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 10:30PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 12:24AM EDT

Sara Landreth can only marvel at the absurdity of her situation.

She has a PhD in English literature. She has been hired to teach English literature to Canada’s budding scholars. Yet her application for immigration will not be processed unless she submits to a $280 English language test, thanks to a ministerial instruction signed by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney last month.

“It certainly strikes me as ridiculous and a bit ludicrous,” Dr. Landreth said. “The irony of someone who’s immigrating to Canada to teach English being asked to take an English test is probably not lost on most people.”

It might seem no more than a bureaucratic hassle, but critics say the decision runs roughshod over immigration law, which states that applicants don’t have to write the test if they can provide other evidence, in writing, of their proficiency in an official language. In response, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration said that in the past, written submissions had to be evaluated by immigration officers; an independently administered test will help prevent fraud and ensure a fair and transparent method of evaluation, a spokeswoman said.

Dr. Landreth, 30, has a tenure-track position at the University of Ottawa, where she has worked for the last year on a temporary permit. She is American by birth and moved to Canada after finishing her PhD at New York University. Her husband, James Brooke-Smith, a British citizen who also holds a PhD in English literature, has been working as a lecturer in Ottawa and will also have to take the test.

“What struck me was the complete inflexibility, that there’s just no way I can waive this,” she said. “That there was no clause for professional capabilities or mother tongue seemed very strange. The reality is it just creates unnecessary red tape.”

David Matas, an immigration lawyer in Winnipeg, said what disturbs him about the change is the way it was enacted. Section 79 of the regulations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that skilled worker applicants may choose to submit to a language test or provide written evidence of their proficiency. Last month, Mr. Kenney issued a ministerial instruction, effective immediately, that said only applicants who write a test will be considered.

“What he’s doing is taking a power over processing and using it, in effect, to amend the law,” Mr. Matas said. “Frankly [it] gives me a good deal of concern and isn’t just about language testing or immigration. It’s the sort of power that, if accepted, would wreak havoc with all our laws.”

He went so far as to call it an abuse of the system. “If it goes without comment, I think we’re just going to see more and more of it, not just in this field but in others,” Mr. Matas added.

Toronto lawyer Cathryn Sawicki has launched a legal challenge to the new rules in Federal Court.

Mr. Kenney referred questions on Wednesday to Kelli Fraser, a departmental spokeswoman, who said the change was made through ministerial instruction to speed processing before a formal regulation change is enacted.

Ms. Fraser said that, in making the decision, the government referred to research that found official language literacy had a significant impact on immigrant earnings, and that where literacy matched that of Canadian-born citizens, there was almost no gap in earnings for immigrants. Since non-native English or French speakers often used the documentation option, visa officers found it difficult to assess their abilities, Ms. Fraser said.

“We felt that going to a language test option was the most fair, transparent, objective, consistent and accurate way to evaluate different applicants’ language skills,” she said.

2 thoughts on “English profs not amused by Canada’s immigration pop quiz

  1. admin Post author

    Editorial from the Globe and Mail:

    _________________________________________

    Arbitrary language test defies common sense

    Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday November 4, 2009. The Canadian Press
    If immigrants already speak English or French, and that can be easily verified, they should not have to spend hundreds of dollars proving it, as a new Canadian policy demands.

    From Friday’s Globe and Mail
    Published on Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 8:00PM EDT

    Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 8:02PM EDT

    .Canada’s immigrants should have the desire to learn one of Canada’s official languages, or know English or French already, when they apply to be immigrants. If they already speak it, and that can be easily verified, they should not have to spend hundreds of dollars proving it, as a new Canadian policy demands.

    The federal government will now make every new prospective immigrant in the Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience categories take a test to demonstrate their knowledge of English or French; the previous rule allowed them to demonstrate their proficiency in writing. A government spokesperson justifies the decision by saying “the use of written submissions as a tool for assessing language proficiency is unreli-

    able, inefficient and more easily subject to fraud.”

    The government should show, however, a little common sense, which is lacking in the cases of Sara Landreth and James Brooke-Smith. Surely graduates of American PhD programs in English literature, both of whom learned English as a first language, are proficient in English.

    Knowing that, it is ludicrous to insist that they take a rudimentary language quiz, and incur the $280 cost involved. It smacks of needless bureaucracy and it degrades the immigration system. It also sends the wrong message to potential future skilled immigrants. Many speak English or French as a mother tongue, and the growing share that don’t have often been educated in English or French.

    Other countries have crafted policies around language and immigration that are worth considering. Australia gives automatic partial language points for skilled immigrants who hold passports from one of five other predominantly English-speaking countries. Britain recently revised its rules to require immigrants from non-European countries coming to join or marry their partners to take an English language test. New Zealand allows applicants to demonstrate their knowledge of English by providing evidence of schooling in English.

    Language, citizenship and participation in larger society are inextricably linked. Canada’s official languages are English and French. We should expect immigrants to demonstrate proficiency in one or both of them, and those who don’t should endeavour to learn it.

    But the government should not go out of its way to torment those whose grasp is manifest by submitting them to arbitrary testing.

  2. admin Post author

    Here is a comment on this article:

    _____________________________________________

    Note: The “required test” is a British based test called the IELTS.

    To begin with a good example of parallel sentence structure, a great American president once commented:

    “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    Clearly his definition of “earth” would not have included Canada.

    A government of the people, by the people and for the people would (at a minimum) include respect for the law of the land. The requirement of the IELTS does not respect the current law.

    There are both long term and short terms problems here.

    The long term problem is that, by requiring the IELTS, the government is not in compliance with the current immigration regulations. It seems that the government thinks that laws are to be applied to the people and not to be obeyed by the government. As this article points out:

    “Section 79 of the regulations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that skilled worker applicants may choose to submit to a language test or provide written evidence of their proficiency. Last month, Mr. Kenney issued a ministerial instruction, effective immediately, that said only applicants who write a test will be considered.”

    These professors should simply, follow the requirements OF THE LAW and submit “written evidence of their proficiency”.

    The short term problem (and I say short term because a requirement that so clearly conflicts with the law has no chance surviving a court challenge) is the requirement of the IELTS itself.

    The IELTS like the TOEFL, was designed to allow non-English speaking immigrants to demonstrate their proficiency in English. It was not designed for native English speakers. This is the reason for the current regulation which allows applicants to submit “written evidence of proficiency”.

    Forcing native English speakers to pass the IELTS is dumb.

    But, a failure to comply with the law of the land is “dumber” (yes, this should be the comparative and not the superlative).

    Globe and Mail Userid = theindependent

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