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The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

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Wide Literacy Gap Handicaps Immigrants

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“Currently, language skills are a major barrier for immigrants in terms of transferring their skills into productive employment”

August 1, 2017 – Ottawa should strengthen the screening process to improve the literacy skills of immigrants, states a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. In The Power of Words: Improving Immigrants’ Literacy Skills, author Parisa Mahboubi argues that Canada needs to improve selection policies for immigration screening, either by giving more weight to language proficiency or by making language testing more rigorous, or a combination thereof.

“Currently, language skills are a major barrier for immigrants in terms of transferring their skills into productive employment,” notes Mahboubi. “Canada needs to consider more rigorous screening policies to ensure that highly educated candidates have adequate literacy skills, in order to speed up the integration process into the Canadian labour force,” she adds.

The education level of an immigrant is not a sufficient indicator of an immigrants’ ability to successfully transfer their skills into the Canadian labour market. There is a persistent literacy-skills gap between immigrants and non-immigrants with the same level of education, which is especially evident among university-educated immigrants compared to university-educated non-immigrants.

According to the report, the screening process right now does not allow immigrants to maximize their potential in the Canadian work force. “Because of the increasing importance of immigration as a source of growth for the Canadian labour force, this screening process must be changed, and a greater weight must be placed on the literacy skills of immigrants.”

In order to improve the literacy gap among immigrants entering the Canadian labour force, the author suggests three recommendations for the government to improve the screening process:

  • Stricter language testing
  • More rigorous language training for targeted immigrants
  • Canada can also benefit from granting permanent residency to more former international students who studied in Canada

As a final point, federal and provincial governments need to make sure new arrivals who have limited language proficiency – especially those admitted under immigration programs other than the skilled-worker streams – receive rigorous language training.

“In order to successfully improve the screening process, the government should implement more rigorous language testing as it relates to the immigration points system, giving less weight to applicants with only a minimum language-proficiency level,” concludes Mahboubi.

Click here for the full report.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

For more information contact: Parisa Mahboubi, Senior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute; or Colin Busby, Associate Director, Research, C.D. Howe Institute; or email: amcbrien@cdhowe.org

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