Language Requirements for Citizenship in Canada, the US and Elsewhere

By Julia at Legal Language
Posted on 06/18/2012
In Immigration



Starting this fall, it will become a little more difficult for those hoping to become Canadian citizens to prove their language skills.

Under a new policy, anyone applying for Canadian citizenship must provide “objective evidence” of their English or French language abilities, both oral and written, according to the National Post.

Canadian Citizenship Language Requirements

Prior to the new program, Canadian citizenship applicants took a citizenship knowledge test that included questions about Canadian history and society. An applicant who successfully completed the test was presumed to have adequate language abilities. An applicant who failed the test would have to prove his or her language skills before a judge.

The new program, expected to be fully implemented in fall 2012, requires citizenship applicants to show their language abilities either by passing an approved language test, passing a government-sponsored language program, or providing an educational degree from an English or French school.

The program should not affect almost half of applicants, who apply through the Federal Skilled Workers Program, a class of workers who specialize in specific qualifying occupations. Skilled workers are already required to take an objective language test before they apply for permanent residence.

For those applicants who are not skilled workers, the new policy will come at a cost. The Canadian government will only accept select standardized language tests, and that can cost almost $300 to take.

American Citizenship Language Requirements

In the United States, citizenship applicants must be able to read, write and speak English to be awarded citizenship.

The English test is given by a US Citizenship and Immigration Services officer during the eligibility interview. Each applicant must correctly read out loud and write one of three sentences correctly. If an applicant does not pass the English test the first time, he or she is given another test on the portion failed within 90 days of the initial interview.

There are some exceptions to the language requirement. For example, an applicant who has lived in the US for 20 years or more and is over the age of 50 at the time of filing is exempt from the English language requirement. In addition, candidates over age 55 who have lived in the US for 15 years or more are also exempt.

Language Requirements in Other Countries

In Australia, hopeful citizenship applicants are required to complete a test of 20 multiple-choice questions about Australian democracy, government and law in English. Although there is no separate English test, each applicant must know sufficient English to correctly answer the questions on the test and receive a passing score of 75 percent.

Similarly, those applying to become citizens of the United Kingdom must also complete a multiple-choice test and receive a grade of 75 percent or higher. The questions cover life in the United Kingdom, and a passing score is presumed to show that the applicant has a sufficient level of English.

Alternatively, applicants can satisfy the language requirement by successfully completing a nationally-accredited ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course, receiving a score of 3 or above, or 1 or above in Scotland. These courses are administered by continuing education and community colleges throughout the UK.

Canada seems to be leading the charge in requiring additional language proficiency. It will be interesting to see if other immigrant nations follow suit.


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