Hinting that language skills will soon become a must for getting citizenship, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney Friday said immigrants should either learn English or French, or face denial of citizenship.
Speaking at an immigration conference in Calgary, the minister said new immigrants must have to learn one of the two official languages (English and French) to integrate into Canada society.
Giving an example of how immigrants are not making efforts to learn any of the two official languages, the minister cited his experiences during his visit to India in January. He said when he attended a few immigration interviews in Delhi, he was surprised to find a woman who had been a Canadian citizen for 12 years but had no knowledge of English.
"This woman was sponsoring a spouse to come to Canada...It made me wonder - is this an isolated example? Regrettably, I don't think it's isolated enough,'' the minister said.
The minister emphasized that the immigration system needs to be overhauled to make learning of official languages mandatory for those seeking to become citizens of this country.
"In terms of the citizenship, if you can't complete the test in one of those two languages, you are not supposed to become a citizen, which I don't think is harsh.
"It is just basically saying go back and study more and come back to us when you can get by in one of those languages,'' the minister said at the conference.
Of the about 250,000 new immigrants into Canada each year, more than 66,000 were admitted in the family category where language skills are not mandatory.
This has led to huge investment in government programmes to impart language skills to these people so that compete and integrate in Canadian society. The immigration minister said new immigrants without language skills lack basic competence to compete.
He also recalled citizenship judges telling him that they frequently give oath of citizenship to people who have no language skills to compete in their adopted society.
Last year, the current Conservative government tightened the immigration system by passing a law to give the immigration minister discretionary powers to decide how many immigrants to admit each year or whom to deny entry.
Currently, more than 35,000 Indians admitted into Canada each year, making India the second largest source - after China - of immigration for Canada.