Immigrant language tests leave some tongue-tied

Getting into Canada to work just got a little harder.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently announced that starting July 1, newcomers under the Provincial Nominee Program in low-skilled professions will have to take a mandatory test in French or English before they’re allowed into Canada.

Jobs that don’t involve much skill will now require potential workers to be tested on their reading, listening, writing and speaking skills.

There are positives to this plan. It will be easier for immigrants to acclimate to the country and feel they are part of Canada, not just foreign visitors.

But it still leaves a lot of questions.

Many people come to Canada without knowing English or French, but contribute greatly by doing the jobs that Canadian-born citizens choose not to do.

According to the 2006 Statistics Canada census report for Scarborough, the area is home to more than 346,000 immigrants, which is over 57 per cent of that population. More than 334,000 residents are first-generation Canadians, and only 46 per cent of them speak English as their first language.

Placing these language requirements on workers in areas such as trade, manufacturing, and sales can potentially make the pool of available applicants to these jobs smaller.

Statistics Canada reported over 24 per cent of Scarborough’s population work in sales and services, while the manufacturing labour force provides over 15 per cent of industry in the area.

If someone comes from a country where they have never been exposed to English or French but is a good worker, how will they stand a chance on gaining entry? Many new workers learn the language when they arrive through exposure.

It may prove better to look at potential workers’ credentials.

If they are qualified, they can be enrolled in an English or French learning program upon arriving in Canada.

This new requirement makes one think that had these restrictions been in place generations ago, some of our family members may not have made it into Canada.

So, while the language test can help assimilate immigrants to Canada, it is to be hoped it doesn’t become a barrier that stops a strong work ethic with a potential to contribute to this country.