Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

English test for immigrants worries Brandon

Maple Leaf workers might have to leave

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BRANDON -- A federal requirement of English proficiency tests for the provincial nominee program could pose a problem for Brandon's economy, immigration experts say.

As of July 1, immigrants will have to pass an English proficiency test in order to qualify for the program.

"Our immigration has very much been driven by Maple Leaf, and of course, most of the workers that they're looking for are low-skilled workers," said Leslie Allen, executive director of Westman Immigrant Services. "Many of them will not be coming in with very much English, if any at all."

In some countries, to learn English usually means the person had to attend private school or get tutored.

"It usually means the type of job that they're going to be looking for would be somewhat different than working at Maple Leaf," Allen said.

Immigrant workers will have to pass a Level 4 English test within 18 months after they arrive as a foreign temporary worker to qualify for the provincial nominee program. That will be difficult for immigrant workers at Brandon's pork-processing plant, Allen said.

"In our experience, for a person to actually go from a Level 1 to a Level 4, it's typically taking three to four years," she said.

"If Maple Leaf basically has to resort to only having foreign temporary workers coming in, then we will be having groups of people coming in for a period of two years and then leaving. It could really impact the numbers of people who are actually going to stay here in Brandon."

Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed said the federal government is trying to bring people with higher skills and higher English levels to Canada.

"The government's position is that we're trying to raise that level so that people that come to Canada are speaking English or French, or at least in that process to speed it up," Tweed said.

He met with Allen and board members from Westman Immigrant Services on Friday to discuss the federal takeover of settlement services.

"We've developed a good working relationship with the province, and of course, any change is scary," Allen said. "Not necessarily knowing what the changes could mean... It's going into uncharted territory, and I think (Merv) totally and completely understands that."

Tweed said they had a "full and frank discussion on the issue," adding he made a commitment to find out more about the English requirement and how it might affect Brandon.

"I'm glad (Leslie) raised the issue," he said. "Better we understand it now than a year from now, and we can either make the adjustments or find out what we have to do."

 

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2012 A12

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