Citizenship language requirements mean extra burdens for refugees

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media release

For immediate release
1 October 2012

Citizenship language requirements mean extra burdens for refugees


The Canadian Council for Refugees today expressed its concern that the new citizenship language requirements will place additional burdens on refugees and other vulnerable newcomers.

Starting November 1, applicants for citizenship will have to provide proof of their English or French skills, at their own expense. Currently the Government of Canada assesses applicants’ language competencies.

“Refugees applying for citizenship often speak good English or French, but they have learned it along the way and don’t have a piece of paper to prove it,” said Loly Rico, President. “They are struggling to get by and support their families: they want to become citizens, but they don’t have money to pay for an expensive language test.”

The government estimates that 27% of applicants will need to pay for testing, because they lack documentary proof of their language competency, and that collectively they will pay $2.2 million annually for language testing.

The CCR notes that many newcomers come to Canada already speaking English or French, but without documentary proof such as high school certificates. This is particularly the case for refugees, who are often forced to travel without their personal documents or who may have learned languages informally.

Other newcomers learn English or French after arrival in Canada, but not in a formal language training course, so they do not have documents proving their language ability.  This may include resettled refugees who must forego language training in order to work to pay back their transportation loan to the government. It also includes many refugees who arrived as refugee claimants: since claimants are not eligible for newcomer language training, they often find alternative ways on their own to learn English or French.

The CCR is also concerned that language testing may not be equally available in all regions of Canada, putting at a disadvantage people in smaller centres or rural areas. They will likely need to pay for travel to centres where language testing is offered.

For more information, see CCR comments:


Colleen French, Communication and Networking Coordinator, (514) 277-7223, ext. 1, (514) 476-3971 (cell),