Every year, tens of thousands of people around the world sit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) General exam as part of their Canadian immigration process. Sitting an IELTS exam can be a daunting prospect, but with a bit of information and advice you can be well positioned to obtain the best results possible.
What is the IELTS exam? How does the IELTS function with respect to Canada’s various economic immigration programs? And how can you obtain the best possible IELTS results, thereby increasing your chances of settling in Canada at the earliest opportunity?
This guide to IELTS and immigration to Canada provides crucial answers to these questions, with additional advice and resources for individuals and families looking to make Canada their permanent home.
The IELTS is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for global migration and higher education. Established in 1989, the IELTS exam is developed by some of the world’s leading experts in language assessment. Nearly three million IELTS exams were taken in 2016.
The IELTS is one of three language tests recognized by the government of Canada for immigration purposes. The others are the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) and the Test d’Évaluation du Français (TEF). CELPIP exams are mostly administered within Canada (with additional international test centres in Dubai and New York City), and the TEF is only used for evaluating French ability.
Bearing in mind that there are three languages tests recognized by Canada for immigration purposes, and that each test has different results/marking methods, results of each test are given a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) equivalent, from 1 to 12. This way, people who sit different tests, sometimes in different languages, can be compared and ranked fairly.
IELTS and Express Entry
Applications submitted to any of Canada’s federal economic immigration programs are managed under the Express Entry immigration selection system.
Getting into the pool
All potential immigrants under Express Entry need to prove ability in English or French (or for extra points, both). This includes native English and French speakers, no matter where they come from or which school they went to. Express Entry is a level playing field, and every point matters as candidates vie for that all-important invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence.
Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t have French ability and are not in a position, geographically speaking, to sit a CELPIP English test. In such a scenario, you are going to need to pass an IELTS exam in order to enter the Express Entry pool.
There are different pathways to entering the pool, with Canada offering three separate programs within Express Entry. If you are not sure which program(s) you may be eligible under, see our guides:
- Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC): For workers evaluated under a unique FSWC points system. Eligible individuals must obtain at least 67 points out of 100. Up to 28 points are available for language ability, rising to up to 33 points for individuals with an accompanying spouse or common-law partner.
- Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC): For tradespersons with relevant experience.
- Canadian Experience Class (CEC): For individuals with ongoing or recent work experience in Canada.
|To enter the pool*|
|FSWC||FSTC||CEC (NOC 0 or A)||CEC (NOC B)|
|Speaking||IELTS 6||IELTS 5||IELTS 6||IELTS 4|
|Reading||IELTS 6||IELTS 3.5||IELTS 6||IELTS 4|
|Writing||IELTS 6||IELTS 4||IELTS 6||IELTS 4|
|Listening||IELTS 6||IELTS 5||IELTS 6||IELTS 5|
*The above table assumes that the individual is otherwise eligible for the listed program(s). Obtaining IELTS exam results equal to or better than the results listed above does not guarantee entry to the pool.
As you can see, the eligibility requirements for entering the pool are different for FSWC, FSTS, and CEC candidates, respectively. However, once in the pool all candidates are ranked using the same points system, known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, or CRS.
Candidates who entered the pool with IELTS results equivalent to CLB 8 or below can make incremental gains in their CRS points total if they can prove improvements in their language skills having re-sat an exam. However, something special can happen if you reach CLB 9, also known as ‘initial advanced’ level. This is because under the ‘skills transferability’ factors of the CRS, language ability is paired separately with education level and work experience gained outside Canada. Up to 100 CRS points are available for these combinations. These bonus points are in addition to the points received for improving language skills under the human capital factors.
Reaching CLB 9 can make or break a candidate’s prospects for immigration to Canada.
To show this, let’s take a hypothetical example. John is a candidate in the pool. Upon entry to the pool, he had proven English ability equivalent to CLB 8 (that is: IELTS 7.5 in listening, and IELTS 6.5 in speaking, reading, and writing). He is 30 years old, has a Master’s degree, and three years of work experience outside Canada. He does not have a job offer, a provincial nomination, or any family members living in Canada. This gave him an initial score of 382 CRS points. However, he re-took an IELTS exam and made marginal improvements across the four abilities, bringing his results to the equivalent of CLB 9 in all four. In doing so, his score increased to a lofty 464 CRS points! Such a score is typically more than enough to secure an ITA.