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Why does this Irish immigrant have to prove she can speak English?

Young Irish immigrants say they’re frustrated and astounded at a federal government policy that insists they pass a test to prove they can speak proper English before gaining permanent resident status — a necessary step along the way to Canadian citizenship.

“Common sense has left the building,” immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann told CBC Toronto last week. He’s calling on the federal government to exempt applicants for permanent resident status who come from countries where English is an official language.

Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson Carl Beauchamp refused a request for an interview from CBC Toronto, but in an email he said every applicant is expected to write the test, regardless of the language spoken in their home country.


Sinead Breen wrote the test in May. She expects to have her permanent residence status around Christmas. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

“To be consistent and transparent, IRCC requires all applicants  to provide proof of language proficiency through an objective test,” he wrote.

Sinead Breen, who came from Ireland in March, 2016, wrote the English proficiency test in May.

She scored well, but questioned the value of the test for people from her country.

“It just seems so unnecessary,” she said Friday. “I’m a member of a Facebook group called Irish and Applying for Canadian PR, and it’s a question that comes up a lot.


Members of a Facebook page called Irish and New in Toronto discussed the mandatory English proficiency test last week. (Facebook)

“People are very disgruntled about having to sit it.”

She also said many young Irish immigrants find the $ 265 cost of the test onerous, and that some are delaying applying for permanent residency — even though they’re on temporary work visas — because they can’t cover the cost.

Marina Hannigan, originally from Waterford, Ireland, said she wrote the test several years ago. She’s now a permanent resident and  works as a hair stylist in downtown Toronto.

“It’s a bit ridiculous when it’s your first language, your own language,” she said.


Marina Hannigan now works as a hair stylist in downtown Toronto. She wrote the test several years ago and became a permanent resident in 2015. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

“I think if you’re from an English-speaking country and it’s your first language, even your high school equivalent would be enough to put you through.” 

The test is administered by a subsidiary of the University of British Columbia called Paragon Testing Enterprises, although the questions themselves are devised by IRCC.

The test covers listening, reading, writing and speaking skills, and takes about three hours to complete online.


A sample question from the English proficiency test that prospective permanent residents must pass. (The Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP))

A sample question:

Your child’s school has asked you to help with a class field trip. Your friend bought you tickets to a baseball game for that same day. The school will cancel the field trip if there are not enough parents, but your friend will be upset if you cannot go to the baseball game because the tickets were expensive. 

Choose ONE:
Talk to the school. Explain why you cannot help with the field trip.
Talk to your friend. Explain why you cannot attend the game.

Answer the following question.

Question: Do you think all university students should study abroad for a year, if there is sufficient funding? Explain your reasons. 


Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann wants the federal government to stop making people whose first language is English take a language proficiency test before becoming permanent residents. (Lisa Xing)

Mamann said that before 2013, applicants for permanent resident status could pass the English proficiency test through an interview with an immigration officer.

But since then, the test has to be done in writing, usually online.

“It makes us look a little bit too bureaucratic,” he said. “Obviously we want to have an objective standard but there has to be some allowance for common sense. 

“We’re asking people who basically invented the English language to prove they speak English.”

And he said it’s not just Irish applicants who are upset at the stipulation.

Even an English prof must write it

“I sat there with a professor of English in the UK at a reputable university and I’m explaining to him I need him to undertake an English language test. it just seems kind of silly.” 

In an email, Beauchamp defended the requirement.

“Mandatory language proficiency tests for applicants to economic immigration programs have been in place for many years … With a standard language proficiency test, all applicants are evaluated against the same standards, no matter their language of origin, nationality or ethnicity.”

CBC | Toronto News