The race for Canada’s special, one-time PR program is flooding English-language test providers
It’s the most sought-after test for any prospective skilled immigration applicant in Canada at the moment and Braxton Rayan is racing against time to secure the earliest spot possible.
With 90,000 spots up for grabs under a new one-time special program offering a pathway to permanent residence, international graduates and essential migrant workers see what they feel is the best chance to make their immigration dreams come true.
However, to qualify, they must meet the language-proficiency requirement and many are now scrambling to book one of the two mandatory language tests — CELPIP and IELTS — as soon as possible amid the third wave of COVID-19, when spaces at test centres are limited.
“We are grateful for this opportunity, but everybody wants to write the test at the same time and we’re all struggling to get a date for the test,” said Rayan, 20, an international student from Sri Lanka in television broadcasting at Seneca College.
“We are all in a rush to get our language test done, but we have limited time because they cap the intake. Once the intake is full, the immigration program shuts down.”
Last Wednesday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced the time-limited immigration pathway to grant permanent residence to 40,000 recent international graduates, 20,000 temporary foreign workers in health care and 30,000 in other essential occupations.
Applications open May 6 and close on Nov. 5 or once the target is reached. So far, Rayan has only managed to book the CELPIP or Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program test for June 17 and fears he could lose an edge to those who can get a test date sooner.
The sudden surge of interest in the English-language tests has overwhelmed the test providers in Canada, crashing their websites following the immigration minister’s announcement.
CELPIP put out a tweet warning people about the “technical difficulties” of its test registration system, and shut down its phone lines “due to the volume of requests.”
“With Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship’s new program, we know that people seeking a pathway to permanent residency are eager to meet their requirements in time for the start of the application period on May 6 and, as a result, we experienced a significant increase in web traffic,” said Betty Chan, vice-president of operations of Paragon Testing Enterprises, which delivers CELPIP in Canada.
“With over 60 test centres across Canada, we can accommodate a growing number of test takers, especially as we expand our availability to meet the current demand.”
Chan said CELPIP had neither advance knowledge of the new immigration program nor could anticipate the extra demand as a result of the announcement last week.
This week, additional CELPIP sittings have been added the next four weekends in a couple of dozen Canadian cities, up to May 16. Tests have been scheduled on “traditionally less popular days” with new times including 8 9:30 and 10 p.m. at some locations.
IELTS Canada, which stands for International English Language Testing System, also reported technical challenges with its booking system in Canada due to the large volume of people looking to book tests.
“We are working hard to add extra test dates and speaking slots. Please continue to check our webpage,” British Council Canada, an owner of the test, said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Akshay Kumar, who graduated from Niagara College’s law clerk program last year, said international graduates must pass a minimum English proficiency to be admitted to a Canadian academic institution. The admission standard is higher than what’s required under the new pathway.
However, IELTS and CELPIP test scores are only considered valid by Canadian immigration officials for two years from the date of issuance of results. Many people who qualify for the new immigration pathway and had already taken the tests have had their test results expire.
“You need to be able to read, write and speak English in order to get admission. If you’re not proficient in English, how are you supposed to graduate from a Canadian college or university?” asked the 26-year-old from India, who has an undergraduate law degree from England.
“I’m not alone. Many of my friends also have trouble logging on (the test websites) and booking a test. It’s fully booked till September. They should waive the language test requirement for those who had taken the test and already graduated from designated institutions.”
On Tuesday, Kumar and others started an online petition raising concerns about the availability of the language tests and the risks of contracting COVID-19, given both IELTS and CELPIP must be taken in person at a designated test centre.
The immigration minister’s office said officials are pleased to see considerable interest in the “exciting” new program.
“This size, scope and speed of this new pathway is unprecedented, and we want to assure prospective applicants that it will be fair for everyone,” said Alexander Cohen, Mendicino’s press secretary.
“The organizations continue to ramp up their capacity by adding extra testing sessions to meet increased demand for language testing, and the department continues to monitor the situation.”
Cohen said applicants can use a previous language test from a designated organization, provided the test result is less than two years old when the application is received.