Australia: Coalition’s test likely to disadvantage those who need citizenship most | The Guardian

As the Australian government proceeds with its changes, the same issues raised by refugee advocates as in C-24:

Citizenship applicants will need to demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency if the government’s proposed changes to the Australian citizenship test go ahead.

Applicants will be required to reach the equivalent of Band 6 proficiency of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To achieve Band 6, applicants must correctly answer 30 out of 40 questions in the reading paper, 23 out of 40 in the listening paper and the writing paper rewards language used “accurately and appropriately”. If a candidate’s writing has “frequent” inaccuracies in grammar and spelling, they cannot achieve Band 6.

Success in IELTS requires proficiency in both the English language and also understanding how to take – and pass – a test. The proposed changes will then make it harder for people with fragmented educational backgrounds to become citizens, such as many refugees.

How do the tests now work?

The current citizenship test consists of 20 multiple choice questions in English that ask about Australia’s political system, history and citizen responsibilities.

While the test does not require demonstration of English proficiency per se, it acts as an indirect assessment of language.

For example, the question “Which official symbol of Australia identifies commonwealth property?” demonstrates the level of linguistic complexity required.

The IELTS test is commonly taken for immigration purposes as a requirement for certain visa categories; however, the designer of the IELTS argues that it was never designed for this purpose. Researchers have argued that the growing strength of English as the language of politics and economics has resulted in its widespread use for immigration purposes.

Impact of proposed changes

English is undoubtedly important for participation in society but deciding citizenship based on a high-stakes language test could further marginalise community members, such as people with refugee backgrounds who have the greatest need for citizenship yet lack the formal educational background to navigate such tests.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues that adults with refugee backgrounds will be hardest hit by the proposed language test.

Data shows that refugees are both more likely to apply for citizenship and twice as likely as other migrant groups to have to retake the test.

Mismatched proficiency expectations

The adult migrant English program, where many adult refugees access English learning upon arrival, expects only a “functional” level of language proficiency.

For many adult refugees – who have minimal first language literacy, fragmented educational experiences and limited opportunities to gain feedback on their written English – “competency” may be prohibitive to gaining citizenship. This is also more likely to impact refugee women, who are less likely to have had formal schooling and more likely to assume caring duties.

Bar too high?

The challenges faced in resettlement, such as pressures of work and financial responsibilities to extended family, often combine to make learning a language difficult and, by extension, prevent refugees from completing the citizenship test.

Similar patterns are evident with the IELTS. Nearly half of Arabic speakers who took the IELTS in 2015 scored lower than Band 6.

There are a number of questions to clarify regarding the proposed language proficiency test:

  • Will those dealing with trauma-related experiences gain exemption from a high-stakes, time-pressured examination?
  • What support will be provided to help applicants study for the test?
  • Will financially disadvantaged members of the community be expected to pay for classes and materials to prepare for the citizenship test?
  • The IELTS test costs $330, with no subsidies available. Will the IELTS-based citizenship/language test attract similar fees?

There are also questions about the fairness of requiring applicants to demonstrate a specific type and level of English under examination conditions that is not required of all citizens. Those born in Australia are not required to pass an academic test of language to retain their citizenship.

Recognising diversity of experiences

There are a few things the government should consider before introducing a language test:

1. Community consultation is essential. Input from community/migrant groups, educators and language assessment specialists will ensure that the test functions as a valid evaluation of progression towards English language proficiency. The government is now calling for submissionsrelated to the new citizenship test.

2. Design the test to value different forms and varieties of English that demonstrate progression in learning rather than adherence to prescriptive standards.

3. Provide educational opportunities that build on existing linguistic strengths that help people to prepare for the test.

Equating a particular type of language proficiency with a commitment to Australian citizenship is a complex and ideologically loaded notion. The government must engage in careful consideration before potentially further disadvantaging those most in need of citizenship.

Source: Coalition’s test likely to disadvantage those who need citizenship most | Sally Baker and Rachel Burke | Australia news | The Guardian

Dutton ups pressure on Labor over ‘Australian value’ proposals in citizenship law changes – ABC News

More on Australian citizenship debates and more advanced language levels (IELTS 6, equivalent to CLB 7 – current Canadian requirement is CLB 4):

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has ramped up pressure on Labor to support the Government’s sweeping changes to citizenship laws which aim to prioritise “Australian values”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the changes in April, declaring that migrants must prove their commitment to the nation with a tough new citizenship test and more stringent English language test.

There have been differing views on the proposal within the Labor caucus and Mr Dutton took up the issue in Question Time on Tuesday.

“What has become evident over course of the last five weeks is that on a fundamental issue you would have thought the Labor Party could unite, but they haven’t,” he said.

“And Mr Speaker what is evident is that, just as on their boats policy, we’ve seen on this policy the left and the right are completely divided.

“[Bill Shorten] needs to state his position, Mr Speaker. Is he in favour of the citizenship changes? Or is he not?”

Lateline understands the policy was informed in part by confidential National Security Commission documents, obtained by the program last year.

The documents urged stronger controls over access to citizenship, pointing to Lebanese migrant enclaves to illustrate potential community safety and national security risks associated with unsuccessful integration.

Under the Government’s proposed changes, migrants would have to pass an IELTs 6 test [equivalent to CLB 7], which is university-level English that includes writing an academic essay.

Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Zed Seselja is the son of Croatian migrants, but he is a firm supporter of the changes.

“For that first generation, if they haven’t learnt English there can be a struggle communicating sometimes with their own kids or grandkids. That’s not ideal. I wouldn’t want to see that with my parents or grandparents,” he said.

He said workplaces have changed from previous generations, when English skills weren’t as necessary in some industries.

“Working today in a factory is more complex than working in a factory 40 years ago,” he said.

“There’s more computerisation, OH&S standards have changed so it is a different work environment and while it’s never been ideal I would put it to you that it’s certainly harder now if you don’t have a good level of English to get most of the jobs on offer.”

English standards and radicalisation

Senator Seselja said raising English standards could reduce isolation, and hence the risk of radicalisation.

“We know that where there are high levels of isolation there is a danger of radicalisation. We know that’s one of the dangers,” he said.

“To the extent that people feel part of a community, to extent they are able to get along with fellow citizens, interact with their fellow citizens, I guess radicalisation is less of a risk, whilst I do acknowledge there are far more complex aspects to radicalisation as well.”

But Labor MP Anne Aly, who is an Egyptian-born counter-terrorism expert, disagrees.

“To suggest that having academic-level English is some kind of magic panacea to radicalisation I think grossly misunderstands radicalisation,” she said.

“There is absolutely no empirical evidence to suggest there is any relationship between an individual’s English language competence and their propensity to become radicalised to any form of violence.”

Dr Aly also used to teach English and believes level 6 IELTs for citizenship sets a high bar.

“Do we really expect people to be able to do that? Do all jobs require you to write an essay?” She asked.

Source: Dutton ups pressure on Labor over ‘Australian value’ proposals in citizenship law changes – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship and related commentary

Clearly responding to concerns of the right, and a reflection that immigrant voters play a less important role than in Canadian elections, with the result of fewer immigrant and visible minority MPs:

Australia plans to raise the bar for handing out citizenships by lengthening the waiting period, adding a new “Australian values” test and raising the standard for English language as part of a shake up of its immigration program.

The move comes in a week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced axing a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replacing it with a tougher program in a bid to put “Australia First”.

Australia has seen the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration politics with far-right wing parties such as One Nation garnering strong public support, while the popularity of Turnbull’s ruling center-right government has been languishing.

The new citizenship requirements are expected to be passed by parliament with the backing of right-wing Senators.

On Thursday, Turnbull said basic English would no longer be sufficient to become an Australian citizen under the new test.

Applicants need a minimum level 6.0 equivalent of the International English Language Testing System, and a person will only become eligible for citizenship after four years as a permanent resident, up from one year.

“What we are doing is strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our values,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. “Australian citizenship should be honored, cherished. It’s a privilege.”

“I reckon if we went out today and said to Australians, “Do you think you could become an Australian citizen without being able to speak English?” They’d say, “You’re kidding. Surely you’d have to be able to speak English.”

Turnbull said the current immigration process was mainly “administrative” while the citizenship test largely a “civics test.”

The current citizenship multiple-choice questionnaire tests a person’s knowledge of Australian laws, national symbols and colors of the Aboriginal flag. But Turnbull said it was not adequate to judge whether a person would accept “Australian values.”

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence…is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen? Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions?”

The new citizenship test will include questions about whether applicants have sent their kids to school, whether they go to work – if they are of working age – and whether becoming part of unruly gangs in cities were Australian values.

“We’re standing up for Australian values and the parliament should do so too,” Turnbull said.

Source: New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship | Reuters

And predictable expressions of concerns (valid) from groups who work with refugees and other vulnerable groups:

Refugees would be hit hardest by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, the refugee council says, with people deterred from applying for citizenship or potentially failing the test under new English language requirements.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues older refugees, and those who’ve arrived from conflict zones with disrupted educations, would find the strengthened English requirement hardest.

“While the overwhelming majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants are children and young people who typically learn English quickly, those brought to Australia as refugees include some older adults, torture survivors and people with disabilities who struggle to master English. These are the people who are most likely to miss out on citizenship under the changes being planned by the government,” the RCOA chief executive, Paul Power, said.

“The sad irony is that people who have come to Australia as refugees value the freedom and security associated with Australian citizenship more highly than any other group in the nation.”

Power said the proposed changes to the citizenship test would not achieve what the government has said it is aiming to do.

“No extremist or terrorist is going to be unearthed by a few questions about values. But the person who will struggle will be the 45-year-old Sudanese mother, who has come to Australia as a refugee, who has had a disrupted, if any, formal education, and is struggling in adulthood to learn a fourth language.”

Department of Immigration and Border Protection statistics reveal refugees apply for citizenship at a higher rate than any other migrant group. But they also fail the test at a far higher rate – refugees have a failure rate of about 8.8% , six times the rate of 1.4% for other categories of migrants. On average, a refugee needs to attempt the citizenship test 2.4 times, double the average for all migrants of 1.2 times.

…Citizenship already has a “basic” English test requirement, that will be strengthened to a “competent” level assessed by an independent, accredited organisation.

Henry Sherrell, researcher at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said the proposed new English language requirement would be a serious barrier to citizenship, particularly for refugees and people in Australia on family visas or the spouses of skilled migrants.

He said the proposed new English level, the equivalent English proficiency of some university entrance requirements, was too high.

“Migrants want to learn English. They want to work. However, not every single newcomer to Australia is in the position to achieve this level of English. This represents a fundamental change to citizenship in Australia with enormous consequences.”

In 2008, one of Australia’s most senior diplomats, Richard Woolcott, reviewed the citizenship test, which had only been introduced the year before. He found it was “flawed, intimidating to some, and discriminatory” and needed significant reform.

“Alternative and improved education pathways to acquire citizenship need to be established for different categories of people seeking citizenship.

“The special situations of refugee and humanitarian entrants and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking citizenship must be addressed.”

The test underwent minor changes in 2009. The citizenship test currently has exemptions for people aged over 60 or with significant disabilities. A government discussion paper on the proposed citizenship test changes, released on Thursday, mentions these exemptions and indicates that they will continue.

Refugees already in the country face substantial – in some cases illegal – barriers to becoming citizens.

More than 10,000 potential citizens who have completed all the requirements for citizenship, including passing the test, and are awaiting only a ceremony to confer citizenship.

The government revealed in court there were 10,231 people who had qualified for citizenship who were living in limbo unsure, when, if ever they would be granted citizenship. Some had been invited to ceremonies only to be told by text message the night before that they would not be made citizens.

Source: Refugees will be hardest hit by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, experts say

And from those from English speaking countries (valid, but more than a touch of superiority):

Ian Sinkins, a British electrical engineer in Australia on a temporary skilled class 457 visa, has a serious beef with Australia’s proposed new citizenship requirements.

The changes, announced by the Turnbull government on Thursday, would require aspiring citizens to sit an English-language test, prove a commitment to Australian values and live in the country for four years as a permanent resident, instead of one.

“We’re being tarred with the same brush … [the plan] doesn’t differentiate where people have come from,” Sinkins told Guardian Australia. “We’re from a Christian background, we speak English, and there’s the shared heritage between Australia and England. And yet we have to take an English-language test, to prove certain things that are kind of obvious. It’s unsettling.”

On ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull explained that the longer residency requirement “means there is more time to integrate, to be part of the Australian community”.

Turnbull said it was “in [migrants’] interests” to learn English, adding “they can maybe take longer before they make their application to be an Australian citizen”.

On Friday the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said speaking English was desirable “because it makes it easier for people to find work … to speak to their neighbours, to turn up to the local footy club or be involved in their church or mosque or whatever”.

But Sinkins, his wife Lisa and two children, who arrived in Australia two and a half years ago, have experienced no such difficulty. He said they have easily settled into their new life, love Australia’s culture, its work ethic and people.

Lisa Sinkins’ uncle and aunt came to Australia more than 50 years ago as “10 pound Poms” and she has first and second generation Australian cousins. “There is no recognition of such background history in the existing or planned changes to the visa and citizenship regulations,” she said.

Lisa is a head practice nurse in a Melbourne clinic, while Ian works at a German renewable company specialising in energy storage and has set up a local company which is growing to the point it will soon employ local engineers.

But with the planned changes, the family face an uncertain future as it will now take a total of eight years – four on the temporary work visa and a further four as permanent residents – to become citizens.

“We question the wisdom of extending the time on permanent residency from one to four years … for citizens from countries such as the UK that clearly have shared values,” he said.

And Sinkins and his family aren’t alone. Of the 95,758 people in Australia on a 457 visa, 19.5% are from the UK, behind India on 24.6%, to mention just one visa class among many that provide a pathway to citizenship.

Sinkins said Australia could be missing out on skilled and motivated people and families, who may rethink their current aspiration to become Australians and make the nation stronger.

“We are now wondering if we are really welcome in Australia with so many obstacles and changing goalposts … we are even now considering whether we should return to the UK,” he said.

Source: ‘Obviously we speak English’: Brits complain about Australia’s new citizenship crackdown

C-6: Senate Debate – Language and Knowledge Testing Age

In addition to the amendment proposed by Senator McCoy to restore procedural protections for those accused of fraud or misrepresentation, and the forthcoming amendment allowing minors to submit citizenship applications on their own (see C-6: Senate bill would let children become citizens separately from parents), Senator Griffin proposed a (compromise?) amendment, proposing a cut-off age of 60 for knowledge and language testing, compared to the current 65 of C-24 and the proposed 55 of C-6.

To her credit, she went back to the Mulroney and Chrétien eras to find justification for 60 being an appropriate cut-off.

I would, however, take issue with the Library of Parliament’s assertion, according to Senator Griffin’s speech, that it was “not decided at either the political or the senior departmental levels.”

Inconceivable. Any such change would have to be signed off by the Deputy and Minister. Moreover, as the timing of April 2005 was prior to the 2006 election, with the main target being new Canadian voters in key ridings.

One of the problems with all the age proposals is the lack of good evidence and policy analysis of their rationale. ATIP records show that there was no such analysis done in 2005 when then Minister Volpe reduced the cut-off to 55, none in 2014 when then Minister Alexander raised it to 65, and again none in 2016 when then Minister McCallum reduced it back to 55. (I didn’t make any ATIP requests earlier than 2005).

And while good policy and political arguments have been made on both sides of the issue, it is unfortunate that various governments appear to have made their policy choices without documented consideration of departmental analysis, suggesting that the decisions were primarily political.

Her research prompted more research by the Bill’s sponsor, Senator Omidvar, indicating that there was more departmental involvement and advice than ATIP records show.

In the end, the Senate approved the amendment, meaning the Government will need to decide whether to accept this (and other amendments) or, as in the case of assisted dying, send it back to the Senate unchanged.

Have included the text of Senators Griffin and Omidvar to provide the flavour of the debate:

Senator Griffin:

Honourable senators, today I rise to speak to Bill C-6. I want to propose an amendment to the bill, but first I want to give you my reasons why.

The age of 55 to demonstrate sufficient language proficiency is too low and should be increased. This is in part due to the fact that a permanent resident at age 49 to 50, after a five-year waiting period, could become a Canadian citizen at age 55 without any knowledge of either French or English.

I think an amendment to increase that level to 60 years of age is particularly important to people in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and rural Canada.

Note that I support a waiver on compassionate grounds. This is found in section 5(3) of the Citizenship Act. I respectfully disagree with routine waivers simply because an applicant is 55.

I am proposing age 60 due to the evidence-based recommendations by studies during the Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien governments. According to the Library of Parliament, the age of 55 for an exemption from the requirements is a more recent trend that was not decided at either the political or the senior departmental levels.

As well, the Library of Parliament analyst cannot find any record of age 55 being transmitted through ministerial instruction. The age of 55 appears to have been decided at a middle management level via an instrument of delegation.

The age exemptions for language and knowledge were never defined in statute prior to the Conservative government’s changes to the Citizenship Act that legislatively set the age to 65.

Prior to this point, there was a requirement for all permanent residents who wished to acquire citizenship to satisfy the knowledge and language requirements, and individuals who could not fulfill these requirements had to request a waiver.

In the early 1980s, the criteria for a routine waiver was set at 65 and over. By 1994, the waiver was lowered to 60. At some point between 1994 and 2014, the waiver was again lowered, this time to 55. But these lowerings were never done at the political level.

Studies from the Mulroney and Chrétien eras recommended using 60 as the benchmark for waivers. In particular, in 1994, the House of Commons committee from the Chrétien government advocated against the routine waiving of language requirements for older applicants.

To paraphrase its report, the Immigration Committee felt that Canadians must be encouraged to obtain a degree of knowledge in one of the official languages. The committee viewed citizenship as a two-way street, and older immigrants should be encouraged to walk as far along that street as possible. The committee warned that routine waiving of language requirements is a form of misplaced passion that could ghettoize people and hinder participation in the broader Canadian mosaic.

The Salisbury-Addison Convention indicates that the Senate should generally not defeat major campaign platform commitments. Effectively, the Senate must defer to the wisdom of the electorate on major platform commitments. However, the lowering of the exemption age to 55 is not a campaign promise. The closest phrase is found in the backgrounder brief called “A New Plan for Canadian Immigration and Economic Opportunity” which states:

“We will repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”

With creativity and imagination, the government could claim that this promise implies the repeal of the age requirement in statute and a restoration of the traditional waiver system. It is clear that entrenchment in statute of age 55 is not contemplated in this promise.

At present, there is a paradox where middle management decision-makers have gradually lowered the age requirement while the lifespan of Canadians is increasing. Age 55 is quite young. I do note with a certain degree of irony that this issue is being debated in this chamber where our average age for a senator is 65.

I draw attention to the comment that former minister John McCallum made to the House of Commons Immigration Committee about the language requirements.

“We did not have consultations specifically on the economic implications of returning to the 55 to 64, but I’m told neither did the previous government on the impact going the other way. So we are reverting to the status quo ante and our predecessors didn’t consult our moving away from it.”

The minister is incorrect in his statement. As discussed earlier, a return to the status quo ante implies not defining 55 in statute and there was no political or senior management direction supporting lowering the age to 55. I stress the lower age runs contrary to the evidence-based recommendations from the Mulroney and Chrétien eras.

One of the primary elements of citizenship is participation in the democratic process, and as a reflection of the smaller population in Atlantic Canada, elections and civic engagement are key elements to successfully integrating into the community.

For example, in Prince Edward Island, the average provincial riding size is about 4,000 people. In the case of my home riding, Vernon River—Stratford, in the last election, after a recount, the two top candidates were tied so the returning officer, according to law, flipped a coin to decide the winner.

Several other ridings were decided by fewer than 100 votes, so this highlights the point that every vote is important and new citizens do have a right to vote, whether or not they can understand the candidates. It is difficult in Eastern Canada for individuals to participate fully in society and in the democratic process without having a working knowledge of either French or English.

I note that a significant number of committee witnesses who spoke to Bill C-6 focused on the national security provisions of the legislation. With respect to age requirements, a cursory examination appears to show none of the witnesses were from Atlantic Canada and the vast majority were from Ontario.

In light of this, I’m putting forward this amendment to highlight that legislative amendments on Canadian citizenship must involve more stakeholders than solely those from the larger population centres.

As well, I’ll point out that in proposing this amendment I am fulfilling the Prime Minister’s vision that senators examine and revise legislation while representing regional, provincial and minority interests.

Senator Omidvar:

Honourable senators, I find I’m rising yet one more time to speak to you about Bill C-6. I wish that were not the case but I wanted to start off on a positive note.

Thank you, Senator Oh, for sharing your amendment with us and your notes. It makes all our jobs so much easier when we understand what you’re thinking. I agree with our facilitator, Senator McCoy, that in fact this should become not just good practice but standard practice. I look forward to working with all those who make these agreements to further this idea.

I would also like to thank my colleague Senator Griffin for her interest and her contribution to the dialogue and debate on this very important bill. And in particular I want to thank her for her readiness and willingness to step up to the plate. I spoke to her yesterday — I think it was eight o’clock in the morning — and I asked whether she would be ready to speak on her amendment. She blinked maybe once and then said “yes,” so kudos on your responsiveness, really.

I will say as much as I admire my colleague from beautiful P.E.I. — and I have learned something about P.E.I. in my conversations with her — I do not support this amendment and I will be voting against it.

First, honourable senators, let me remind everybody this is a repeal bill. It means it repeals certain provisions to take them back to where they were before, not to another place, not to tweak it, to massage it or find another playing field, but to bring it back to where we were before, and that was age 55.

Second, changes to the Citizenship Act were part of the election promise. The Liberal government was elected on a platform with a particular mandate and this change is part of it. As the Prime Minister said, “We will repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 . . . that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”

Senator Griffin is absolutely right; she has done her research very well. There is no particular reference to age, but I believe that lowering the age exemption is part and parcel of this promise and one that I am personally delighted that the Prime Minister has chosen to keep.

Senator Griffin is proposing to raise the waiver age for exemption of language and knowledge testing from 55, which is in the bill, to 60 — five years. And I would like to focus my comments on why five years matter and to whom.

I would like to start with evidence, just as Senator Griffin did. She pointed to some research in the Mulroney and Chrétien eras. I won’t dwell too much on this point. I just want to remind everyone that the source of immigrants to Canada has diversified significantly since then, especially in the 1990s, which would not be captured in the statistics available at that time. Policy recommendations at that time made sense, perhaps, for a country of primarily European immigrants.

But I wanted to look for recent evidence, so I turned to one of the most knowledgeable people in the field of citizenship, and that is Andrew Griffith, the former Director General in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. He filed an access to information request to find the documentation behind the 2014 decision to raise the waiver age from 55 to 65, and the department returned his request with zero documentation. Mr. Griffith concluded: “We are in an evidence-free zone.”

But did I find some evidence. I looked for it in a different place with a different lens, and I found it in the gender-based analysis that was conducted for Bill C-24. No gender-based analysis was conducted for Bill C-6 because it was felt it still held in that one year. This is what we know, because it is what the GBA said: that from 2000 to 2004, when the waiver age was 60, which is exactly what Senator Griffin is proposing to do, applicants aged 55 to 60 had a 5 per cent lower test pass rate than the rate of all other age groups. In other words, testing impacted those aged between 55 and 60.

I went back a little further in history, and I determined that it was in 2005, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, that the age was lowered from 60 to 55. The Minister of Immigration was Joe Volpe, in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s cabinet. I just picked up the phone yesterday, called him and was lucky enough to find him. I said, “Mr. Volpe, can you remember if there was evidence behind your decision?” We are dealing with memory, I understand, but he was very clear when he said to me that he relied on evidence to make this decision, and the evidence was collected by the department and concluded that testing poses a particular barrier for older immigrants.

He went on to say that it didn’t make sense to deprive them of the opportunity to become citizens. It didn’t make sense that one could only be an exemplary citizen or a good citizen if you could pass a test.

There is some other evidence that I will cite briefly. We know there is a falling rate of applications for citizenship; this is documented, again, by Andrew Griffith. He found a nearly 50 per cent drop in applications in the first nine months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. I want to remind us all what Senator Eggleton said: The fees for citizenship applications have risen an astronomical 500 per cent. It costs roughly $630 per person to apply for citizenship.

I want you to consider someone who is 55 years old, who is lower income, who is supporting a family and putting food on the table, and they have to then put $630 on the table for a citizenship application test, and they are nervous about passing it. So I conclude that testing has a disproportionate impact on older immigrants and therefore constitutes a disincentive.

Let me talk a little bit about who this change will impact. It’s a small minority, by the way, of citizenship applicants. Historically, only about 8 per cent of the total number of citizenship applications received each year has come from this age group. Who are they? We are not talking about people who choose to come to Canada for the labour market. Their age would, in fact, be a great disqualifier. We are talking about refugees, parents, grandparents and spouses. In particular, I am talking about women who have come to Canada as sponsored spouses, a parent or as a refugee.

Elke Winter, Associate Professor of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, testified during witness hearings on Bill C-24 that, for the “less educated, non-European-language speakers, and the economically vulnerable,” it makes citizenship much harder to obtain.

Let me restate what I have pointed out in both of my speeches on Bill C-6. Sadly, I think there are way too many people who need to hold down more than two jobs simply to make the rent and pay their bills. These people, again, many of them women, work in factories where they operate within a context where language acquisition either does not matter or is not necessary.

Again, these women aged 55 and over are good enough to work, good enough to raise their children, good enough to send them to university and good enough to pay taxes, but they are not good enough to become Canadians.

I have heard no credible evidence that changing the age one way or another is an incentive to learning a language. But I have heard that it is a real barrier based on your socio-economic status, your gender and your race. I feel I am hugely disadvantaged in this chamber because I do not speak French. I think it is a big disadvantage. I know I can try to learn it, but I figured out that it would be incredibly difficult to get up to the fluency of Senators Pratte and Dupuis. I try to listen to them, but I know it is hard. I am someone who has a natural tendency to learn languages — I speak six of them — but I know now it would be too hard to learn that language.

Barriers like being too poor, too busy, too badly needed at home, too fearful and too risk-averse: for vulnerable people, a barrier is a barrier. I’m afraid I cannot see an incentive in it.

Miss Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian legal clinic reminded us that your ability to learn a language depends on your mental health, family status, income, working hours and more.

I will agree with each one of you that we need to spend more money on languages. Language is invaluable for those who have it, and we should strive to open our official languages to include more of our citizens. But we should not do this by erecting barriers. We should not do it at the cost of disenfranchisement.

We heard yesterday that language requirements can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Senator Eggleton posed the very pointed question: How many times has this policy actually been applied?

Today, in the morning, I was speaking to the director generals and deputy ministers of the department. I asked them this question, and there was, sadly, no answer.

Let me make an assumption: If passing a test is a challenge, I wonder how much more challenging it would be to arrange a waiver. But I do have some very concrete evidence about the good things that happen when you do become a citizen. It is scientifically proven that you have a greater attachment to the labour market. You develop a greater sense of belonging to Canada and its institutions. You have a greater investment in ownership, and you invest in this country in many ways. I really believe this is the spirit of what both Senator Griffin and I want.

Senator Griffin made a very interesting point about political participation. Her story, about the one vote being decided in a coin toss, was fascinating. Senator Griffin is rightly anxious that more people participate in the democratic process. But she is also anxious that they participate in it in an informed way. Well, frankly, I’m not sure whether other Canadians are well-informed about our system or not. We don’t have a test for them, and they participate in it.

But I do know this: Immigrants have a knowledge of civics from an unusual source of information, and this is from a flourishing ethnic press, both online and offline. I spoke to Naomi Alboim, a distinguished professor from Queen’s University, who said to me that not being able to speak the language does not mean you don’t understand the democratic process and the rights and responsibilities attached to it. She pointed to the ethnic press and its prevalence and role in civic education.

So I did some research this morning. I had some fun. I discovered that the largest immigrant group on Prince Edward Island is Mandarin-speaking. There is a Mandarin-English publication called Ni Hao PEI. It’s a quarterly newspaper. And I looked at the top news stories in 2017. They were not about mainland China politics. Here are three headlines: Get to know a farmer!; P.E.I. farmland — the new investment of choice; P.E.I. rural schools: natural decline or time for change?

I don’t think we should assume that Canadian civics and curiosity requires a certain degree of English and language. You can get it from other sources.

I have a case in point. My mother lives with me; you have heard me talk about her. She is a delightful mother, close to 90 years old, although she wants to be 85. She got her citizenship in the late 1980s, when she was much younger. I do not remember what tests there were, but there were tests. In the meantime, the bars on language and knowledge testing has been raised. It’s become digital. I doubt whether she would pass.

Here is also something that is true: She is up on politics, sometimes more than I am, because she is glued to the wonderful South Asian television channel called OMNI. She has her daily dose of Bollywood drama. But she quizzes me often, especially when I come home from the Senate, on things she has heard about on the South Asian news. This became really clear to me when we were talking about assisted dying, because it’s a matter relevant to her. She asked me every day: What is the access? What are the provisions? Who will administer it? She really gave me the run-through.

I reject the notion that if your English or French is not good enough to pass a test it is not good enough to understand how to participate in the political process. Let us try telling that to all our Italian, Greek, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants.

Let me conclude with five years. Five years is a long time. I’m a rookie senator today. In five years, I hope to be a halfway competent senator. Let me think about what happens to a low- income woman who is 55 years old.

Source: C-6 Debates: Language and Knowledge Assessment April 5

C-6 Debates: Language and Knowledge Assessment April 6

Trudeau government to update federal rules for service in English, French

Will be interesting to see what alternatives, if any, to the Census data traditionally relied upon, and whether the thresholds for providing OL service change:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will take the first step Thursday toward modernizing the rules that govern how the government provides services in English and French, CBC News has learned.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will announce the launch of a process to bring the Official Language Regulations, which deal with communicating to the public, up to date.

Under the Official Languages Act, federal government institutions are obliged to provide services to the public in both English and French in the National Capital Region, as well as across the country “where there is significant demand for communications.”

But if an English community in Quebec (or a French-speaking community elsewhere in Canada) is too small to qualify, federal government institutions — from Service Canada to the local post office — aren’t obliged to offer services in the dominant language.

The government uses census results to determine what constitutes significant demand and the regulations spell out how many people have to list a minority language as their mother tongue for an area to qualify for bilingual service.

Minority language groups, however, have at times complained that the regulations are too restrictive and don’t always take into account everyone who would like to be served in a minority language.

The 2011 census found there were an estimated 647,655 Quebecers whose mother tongue was English and a million people living outside Quebec whose mother tongue was French.

In his final report as Official Languages Commissioner last May, Graham Fraser listed providing government services in minority official languages as a priority.

He recommended that the Treasury Board do an evaluation of “the effectiveness and efficiency of its policies and directives” for implementing the rules governing communications and services to the public.

“A minority community can be thriving and growing, but if the majority grows faster, services are lost. This is simply unfair,” Fraser said at the time. “Bill S-209 provides a way of addressing the injustice, as would a revision of the Official Language Regulations.”

Source: Trudeau government to update federal rules for service in English, French – Politics – CBC News

Tests d’immigration [citizenship] plus chers en français : le commissaire aux langues officielles blâme Ottawa

This should provoke some broader reflection within IRCC about the overall cost of citizenship and the related impact on the naturalization rate. Not just an issue of differential costs for francophones and anglophones:

Le commissaire aux langues officielles est catégorique : le gouvernement fédéral manque à son devoir et nuit peut-être même à l’immigration francophone en acceptant des tests de compétence linguistique en français plus chers et moins accessibles que les tests en anglais.

Après un an d’enquête, Graham Fraser présente un rapport préliminaire qui donne raison aux francophones qui s’étaient plaints de la différence de tarifs entre les tests en français et en anglais. Pour devenir résident permanent, il faut prouver qu’on maîtrise l’une des deux langues officielles, en réussissant, par exemple, un examen reconnu par Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC).
Le problème, c’est que les évaluations en français coûtent souvent des centaines de dollars de plus.
Résultat : pour économiser, des immigrants francophones optent plutôt pour l’examen en anglais. Un choix déchirant pour certains.
Pourquoi cette différence de prix?
Les tests de français offerts au pays sont tous conçus et corrigés en France, soit par la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris ou par le Centre international d’études pédagogiques. Pour recevoir leur correction finale, les examens doivent être renvoyés outre-mer par la poste.
Autre coût : le salaire des examinateurs. Chaque candidat qui passe le test doit être examiné par deux personnes, ce qui n’est pas le cas pour l’un des tests d’anglais.
Même si les organisations désignées pour administrer les tests sont des tierces parties, insiste Graham Fraser, ces services doivent être « disponibles et de qualité égale » en français comme en anglais, en vertu de l’article 25 de la Loi sur les langues officielles.
IRCC n’a pris aucune mesure pour s’assurer que les candidats aient accès de manière égale aux services d’évaluation linguistique. L’égalité réelle comprend l’égalité d’accès, d’usage, de qualité et de statut.
En plus d’être plus chers, écrit le commissaire, les tests sont aussi plus difficile d’accès pour les francophones. Le Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) n’est d’ailleurs pas du tout offert à l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, ni à Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, ni dans les territoires.

Graham Fraser cite en exemple le cas d’un francophone de Whitehorse, au Yukon, qui a dû se rendre à Vancouver, en Colombie-Britannique, pour passer son TEF. Une fois la partie écrite de son test complétée, il a dû attendre quatre jours sur place avant qu’on évalue ses compétences en compréhension orale.
Une fois le test complété, note Fraser, les francophones attendent souvent plus longtemps avant d’obtenir les résultats. Par exemple, en Colombie-Britannique et en Nouvelle-Écosse, « le délai d’attente [pour s’inscrire] pouvait respectivement atteindre trois et cinq mois. »
Le commissaire recommande au gouvernement fédéral « d’entreprendre immédiatement des démarches » pour mettre fin à cette situation qui dure depuis des années, et qui pourrait avoir des conséquences négatives sur l’accueil d’immigrants francophones et, ultimement, sur la vitalité du français au pays.

Source: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/ontario/2016/09/27/001-tests-immigrants-plus-chers-francais-commissaire-fraser.shtml

Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes

Pagtakhan develops further the arguments he made during the C-6 hearings which, while interesting, would be more convincing if he were able to back his assertions with harder evidence and more granular data (one area I will be looking into more in my 2016 Census update Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote will be languages spoken):

The three main arguments for requiring new immigrants to pass a language test before becoming citizens are to ensure that they are employable in Canada, are able to integrate into Canadian society, and are able to settle and live here safely and comfortably.

Laudable goals unmet

While these are laudable goals, testing immigrants for language at the point they apply for citizenship misses one big thing — these immigrants have already been living here for years. As a result, testing for language at this stage will not help in achieving these goals.

Once people immigrate to Canada, they are legally entitled to work, study and live in Canada for the rest of their lives. At no point do they have to be retested for language to maintain their right to live in Canada. Many immigrants come to Canada and never apply for citizenship. If these immigrants are not required to take a language test before immigrating, they can live here without proving any language proficiency.

If knowledge of English or French is so important for employment, integration and settlement, why do we allow some immigrants into Canada without testing them for English or French? Furthermore, why do we let them to stay here without periodically testing them for language?

While periodically testing immigrants for language would probably infringe on their charter rights, there is another practical reason why we should not testing them for language after arrival in Canada — these immigrants will likely improve their English or French in Canada out of their own self-interest to be successful.

…The fact is that most people who live in Canada, whether they are immigrants or individuals born here, will learn English or French. English or French is the language used in virtually all schools and workplaces in Canada. The motivation to speak English or French will not come from a citizenship test requirement, it will come from a person’s need to be successful here. The money spent by new Canadians who pay for these tests and the money spent paying government officers to review these test results can be better spent elsewhere.

Source: Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes – Manitoba – CBC News

Canadian Language Benchmark Test Nightmare – Immigroup

One of the implications of the change in to pre-application assessment of language introduced in 2010 or 2011 as a means of streamlining processing based on advice from the Operations people.

I didn’t fully grasp the implications at the time (my bad!) but since then a number of these anecdotes have emerged (a Danish friend of mine, having worked in Silicon Valley and Ottawa for many years, had to pay $200 or so for his test despite obviously being fluent given his work history).

The end result is that for a number of people, Canadian citizenship costs $630 in government fees plus about $200 or more for language assessment, higher than comparator countries like Australia:

IRCC is asking that I take either a French exam which would cost me $460 or an English exam which would cost me $299. Why the difference in price? Why is it that I have to take a French exam when I graduated with a BA Honours French from a recognised university in Canada? The test is plainly highway robbery! Not only am I fully bilingual, I have also studied French since kindergarten and the best part of it is that I am a French teacher who has been working in a language school for a year and seven months now, teaching government employees the language (oral, written and comprehension at all levels)! On top of this $460 for the exam, I will also be required to pay $475 for the PR fee.

Source: Canadian Language Benchmark Test Nightmare – Immigroup – We Are Immigration Law

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

McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com

No details yet on the ‘radical changes’ promised but a strong indication of Liberal caucus concerns, which seem primarily around language assessment.

However, Minister McCallum’s mandate letter only had three commitments:

  • Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
  • Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and regulations that require new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

But a clear signal of intent to do more.

I find it somewhat amusing that after being critical of some of the changes to citizenship made by the previous government, I now find myself defending them on language assessment:

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will be “producing radical changes” to the Citizenship Act in the next few weeks. Liberals have been telling him that the government should eliminate the language requirement for new immigrants to apply for Canadian citizenship, which was brought in by the Conservatives in 2014 as part of the controversial Bill C-24.

Mr. McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) told The Hill Times that he’s aware of the concerns and will make an announcement in a few weeks. We’re going to be producing radical changes to the citizenship bill,” Mr. McCallum said. “We’re going to be announcing the details of those changes in just a few weeks.”

Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that although they want new immigrants to acquire proficiency in both or at least one of the two official languages of Canada, it’s also a question of fairness, saying the language requirements disenfranchise new immigrants from their right to take part in the political process.

“It’s a big problem the way the system has been set up under the previous government for language requirements,” said rookie Liberal MP Shaun Chen (Scarborough North, Ont.) whose riding has the highest visible minority population of 90.1 per cent, in the country.

But in some cases MPs said new immigrants fail to achieve the required proficiency for a variety of reasons. For example, some immigrants come to Canada under the family sponsorship program, as parents or grandparents and may not have any knowledge or a limited understanding of English or French. At that age, MPs said, it becomes an uphill battle, for some, to learn a new language. Also, when new immigrants move to Canada, the first priority for them is to provide for their family and take care of the expenses and a significant number take up any odd job to earn a living which can mean they don’t have the time to learn a new language, MPs said.

“Often times, families are sponsoring elders and grandparents at a very elderly age. It’s very challenging and difficult for them to be at such a high proficiency of English or French. To me, it makes sense for us to [adopt a system] that’s more inclusive,” said Mr. Chen. “It’s helpful to families that need to sponsor, for example, grandparents. Those new Canadians play an important role to look after children to be there and to support the family and, absolutely, it’s something that we will need to revisit and look at.”

Canadian citizens have a significant number of advantages over permanent residents, including the ability to work, participating in the political process by voting and running for political office, having a passport that makes it easy to travel internationally, and having the right to get consular support overseas.

….Liberal MPs Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.) and Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.) also told The Hill Times that they are in favour of eliminating the language proficiency test as a requirement to apply for Canadian citizenship.

“Why don’t we let those individuals who are part and parcel of this economy, that are part and parcel of building Canada, the Canada we all aspire, why should they be denied a right to participate in our democratic process which is the fundamental difference that Canadians have over many other countries that we have come from,” said Mr. Dhaliwal, who came to Canada as an immigrant from India and whose riding has a 70.2 per cent of visible minority population. Mr. Kang’s riding has a 59.6 per cent of visible minority population.

Mr. Griffith, however, said that language proficiency is a critical element of a new immigrant’s integration and success in a new country. He said that he’s in favour of requiring new immigrants to learn English or French but also said that if new immigrants over the age of 54 are not able to learn either of the languages, this requirement should be waived.

“If you don’t learn English or French, depending on where you are, you’re basically hurting yourself. It means you’re not going to be able to integrate properly, you’re not going to be able to help your kids with school work, and everything like that. If you start to waive the language completely, you’re basically not helping people succeed in the society,” said Mr. Griffith.

Source: McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com