Several BC MPs are calling on the federal government to ease restrictions on the English or French language proficiency test new immigrants must pass in order to become Canadian citizens.

The Conservative government passed Bill C-24 or the Strengthening of Canadian Citizenship Act in 2014, making the language test more difficult. It also expanded the age range of people required to take the test, to 65-years old, up from 55.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to repeal the bill, which also allows the government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism-related offences.

Deserving immigrants

One Vancouver MP says the test prevents many otherwise deserving immigrants from becoming Canadian citizens.

Jenny Kwan

NDP MP Jenny Kwan says the language proficiency test unfairly prevents some hardworking immigrants from becoming Canadian citizens. (CBC)

"I've come across a lot of people who said to me they've written the test and they cannot pass it, three or four times," said Jenny Kwan, NDP MP for Vancouver-East.

"They study for it. They train for it, and in spite of that, they can't pass the test — to the point where they are so discouraged they say, I'm not going to try."

Kwan, whose parents immigrated to Canada, says her mother would not have passed the language proficiency test, but she became a contributing member of society nonetheless.

"She did learn some English, enough to get her into a minimum wage job to which she worked until she retired at 65."

Age requirement

Other MPs say they don't want the language proficiency test scrapped but want the immigration minister to lower the age requirements instead.

The language proficiency test encourages young immigrants to learn an official language, said Sukh Dhaliwal, Liberal MP for Surrey-Newton. He immigrated to Canada in 1955, not knowing any English.

But elderly immigrants may have trouble passing the test, despite living and working in Canada for many years, he said. Without citizenship, they are losing out on their democratic right to vote.

"The people who are between 55 and 65, people who have contributed to this society … are we to deny them the right to vote?"  


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: MPs call for change to immigration language requirements.