|A map of Canada exhibiting its ten provinces and three territories, and their capitals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Thousands of newcomers destined for low-skilled jobs in far-flung parts of the country will now be subject to mandatory language testing, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday in Saskatoon.
Starting July 1, Kenney said Provincial Nominee Program applicants in semi-skilled and low-skilled professions will be tested and required to meet a minimum standard when it comes to listening, speaking, reading and writing in at least one of Canada's official languages — English or French.
Additional changes will be made to the program to ensure economic streams also are prioritized.
"As a result, immigrants coming to Canada under PNPs will arrive with much better language skills and will be selected for the impact they can have on Canada's economy," Kenney said.
"We have supported enormous growth in the number of provincial nominees in recent years because it makes sense for the provinces and territories to have the flexibility to meet regional needs."
The new language requirements will impact tradespeople, those in manufacturing, sales and services, as well as certain clerical and assistant categories.
Applicants will be required to provide valid test scores from a designated testing agency in order to comply with the new rules.
Temporary foreign workers who arrive before July 1 and transition to the provincial nominee program within a year, have a one-time exemption.
More than 38,000 workers and their families came to Canada last year through the program, which gives the provinces and territories a greater say in immigration, in a bid to fill gaps in their local labour markets.
It's also helped spread out the immigrant population as more and more people have been choosing to settle outside traditionally popular provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia.
An economic boom in Saskatchewan, for example, has seen the program grow to 5,354 immigrants in 2010, compared with just 173 in 2003.
In January, Kenney hinted the government would bring in language proficiency requirements as a means of cracking down on fraud.
At the time, he suggested a "correlation" existed between high levels of immigration fraud and regions that don't make language proficiency a top priority.
He said it was a particular problem with immigrant investor programs in Eastern Canada.
In fact, allegations of fraud, mismanagement and a series of lawsuits prompted the government to shut down immigrant investor programs in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
"Some provinces were allowing consultants to run fast and loose and attract people who had a lot of money but no language proficiency," Kenney said at the time.
With a file from The Calgary Herald
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