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Shortage of English testing drives brains away from NS

Ottawa’s new plan to turn international students into permanent residents is hard to access here.

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When Bunmi Adedeji learned about the new policy for international students to apply for permanent residency in Canada, she was excited. Now the Dalhousie University graduate didn’t need to wait to work for a year before applying to be a permanent resident.

On April 14, the federal government announced a plan to speed up the process of granting foreign nationals permanent residence in Canada, by giving permanent residency to 40,000 international students who have graduated from Canadian institutions since January 2017. This policy opened yesterday, May 6, and is slated to run until November 5, 2021 or the 40,000-student goal has been attained, whichever comes first.

This program should be good news for Nova Scotia. According to One Nova Scotia, there were 1,355 international students in the province who transitioned into being permanent residents in 2019. But in 2020 the number fell sharply—only 910 students became permanent residents, out of an international student body of almost 13,000. A plan to speed up the PR process might help Nova Scotia retain more of these promising people from around the world, so they study and stay, instead of learn and leave.

Adedeji, a recent graduate of social work from Dal, was excited about this new opportunity. But that excitement would be short-lived. PR applicants are required to prove language competency, so she hurried to book an English test in order to fulfill the minimum score—5 points—to be eligible to apply. However, at the two authorized English language proficiency test services, IELTS and CELPIP, their websites crashed on the same day. Adedeji was worried. “I remember feeling like 40,000 is too small,” she says.

At different times in the day, she and her friend would take turns refreshing, hoping for a miracle at the overloaded sites. And they weren’t the only ones. International students across Canada expressed their worry on social media. When the sites were finally up and running again, it was a bit too late. Adedeji, who had planned to take the test before April so as to send in her application by May, couldn’t find any exam seats.

On April 26, CELPIP announced it had reached its testing capacity up to May 9th, but advised people to look out for more seats from the second half of May until the end of June. At that time, provinces including Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia did have some seats available. But for graduates living in Nova Scotia, the spots are all filled up.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is aware of the difficulty in getting dates for English tests. “In light of this increased demand, the organizations are ramping up their capacity by adding extra testing sessions. IRCC continues to monitor the situation,” IRCC spokesperson Isabelle Dubois tells The Coast. Dubois says applicants may use a previous language test from a designated organization, as long as that result is not more than two years old when the application is received. But that doesn’t help those who haven’t taken their test.

Adedeji ended up following in the footsteps of generations of Nova Scotians seeking to make the most of available opportunities: She decided to move to Ontario. Her English test date is in August.

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