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    IELTS and immigration to Manitoba

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is all the talk today. IELTS has become the focus of conversation on both the federal skilled work program as well as on our Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP).

The assessment of English or French is not new; it has been part of federal skilled worker immigration to Canada for a long time. Regulation 79 (1) (b) of the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act specifies that skilled worker applicants must “provide other evidence in writing of their proficiency in those languages,” meaning French or English.

IELTS now the federal standard

What then has changed? IELTS has now become the federal standard to measure the English language proficiency of skilled worker applicants while the Test d’evaluation de francaisis the standard for French. This was announced in the federal Immigration Minister’s speech of 26 June 2010. Minister Kenny stated that skilled immigrant applicants “will now be required to submit the results of an independent language test before their applications are considered. These tests (specifically IELTS) will provide a transparent, objective and reliable assessment of an applicant’s language ability, which will help speed up processing times.”

In his speech the federal Minister said that his provincial counterparts are largely supportive of this change. So, the question for our provincial Minister is to clarify Manitoba’s position on the requirement for IELTS from all skilled worker applicants applying to MPNP.

The skilled worker application stream of MPNP has been very successful in bringing in a large number of new immigrants into the province – and the largest individual group is from the Philippines. The questions that many in the community are now asking are whether IELTS will become mandatory and how does the MPNP currently determine the English language proficiency of applicants, especially those who completed secondary or post-secondary education in the Philippines, where instruction is commonly given in English.

According to the chart set forth on page 13 of the MPNP kit, language ability points are calculated according to documented proof of training and ability in one of Canada’s official languages – either English or French. This chart has changed since the beginning of MPNP in 1998 and now specifies IELTS results prominently in the scoring. The most relevant description is: “where English or French is the common second language used in secondary and post-secondary school system in applicant’s country of residence and applicant has sufficient language ability to be employable in his/her assessed occupation – based on education documents or overall IELTS score of 5.5”  – is seven assessment points.

If this description sounds familiar, it should be, because it describes applicants from the Philippines.

Fairness and transparency

Does this mean that all persons educated in the Philippines should be assigned seven points? Historically, this has often been the case with MPNP, but their practice has changed recently and continues to change. If seven points were awarded even though the applicant scored only 54 points in total, then the MPNP is following closely on its stated guidelines.

If such applicants were asked to provide IELTS scores as part of their assessment and only score 5.5 then they would be correctly given seven assessment points. If their IELTS score was less than 5.5, then they would be given the corresponding English language benchmark. If, however, applicants were not warned that they could possibly fail if they did not submit the results of an IELTS examination, then this raises other questions about procedural fairness and the transparency of the assessments.

The concern about fairness is evident in cases where applicants from the Philippines were assigned only six points for English proficiency – instead of the stated seven points – and then were refused without any notification or explanation from the MPNP. There are many who believe that the departure from the expected assignment of seven points and the failure to warn applicants about probable failure represents a failure on the part of the MPNP assessment system and have become grounds for not only a decision review but also a decision reversal.

The MPNP does have a responsibility to select the applicants best able to contribute to the economic growth of the province but it must also do this in a fully transparent fashion.

What is the verdict in this case? The best description is that the jury is still out because all interested parties must wait to see if the MPNP changes it’s stated assessment policy in light of the IELTS requirement specified by federal immigration. Readers should be aware that Manitoba is not alone in the Canadian immigration world but works together with other partners, especially the Canadian government. The federal change can have a profound effect on the way the MPNP assesses language requirements. The Manitoba program has actually been moving towards adopting IELTS as the standard for English language assessments over the years and may opt to take the final step by making the test mandatory for all applicants, including those from the Philippines.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba or by telephone at: (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292.

The content of this article is intended for information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Michael Scott invites all readers to contact him directly.

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