Canada’s family class and the spousal sponsorship program have recently been hit with two significant changes that are largely based on immigration programs found in other Western nations. The first recent change is the proposed introduction of a sponsorship bar, which prohibits recently sponsored spouses from sponsoring a new spouse for three years after they land in Canada. The second is a proposed change to move towards conditional permanent residency for sponsored spouses who have been in a relationship for less than three years with the person that sponsored them.
Given that the current Conservative government appears to be basing much of its changes to Canada’s immigration system on what other Western countries are doing, it is worth exploring another feature of many European countries’ immigration system that is absent in Canada. This is the requirement that family class applicants either pass a language test or a test on their respective destination country’s culture in order to immigrate.
On June 9, 2010, for example, the United Kingdom introduced language tests for foreign spouses. Under the program, all non-European immigrants to the United Kingdom must pass a basic English language test before being granted a visa. The rules apply to anyone wanting to join their spouse or partner in the United Kingdom.
Effective November 15, 2010, meanwhile, a similar requirement was introduced in Denmark. Applicants under Denmark’s family reunification program must pass an immigration test before they can immigrate. The test is an oral one consisting of a language section and a knowledge section. There are 70 questions, consisting of 40 language questions and 30 culture questions. Applicants are required to get 30 out of 40 of the language questions correct, and 21 out of 30 of the Danish society questions correct in order to pass the test. The questions on Danish society are asked in Danish, and applicants must answer in Danish. The immigration test must be taken in Denmark, and applicants are required to travel to Denmark in order to take it.
On May 15, 2011, Søren Pind, Denmark’s immigration minister, announced that an exemption was being considered for spouses from developed countries.
Both Denmark and the United Kingdom based their laws on similar requirements in France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.
I should note that I am not suggesting that the Conservative Government is going to move towards either introducing an immigration test for the family class, or for exempting nations of developed nations from that test. There is nothing to suggest that the Conservative Government is even considering any of the above programs from the UK and Denmark. However, an understanding of other systems provides a useful comparative perspective that could be interesting and potentially relevant in the future.