Language and knowledge hearings for adults

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

With amendments to the Citizenship Act in 2017, the age range for adult applicants to meet language and knowledge requirements was amended from 18-64 to 18-54. This provision is retroactive, therefore, applicants who have not yet been assessed, or are in the process of being assessed for knowledge and language requirements and were 55 years of age or older on the date they signed their application are not required to meet these requirements.

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Knowledge and language requirements

If the applicant has failed the written knowledge test and retest (or has waived their right to a written test or a retest) or if the citizenship official who screened for language during the program integrity interview is not satisfied that, despite the provision of language evidence at the time of application, the applicant meets a Canadian Language Benchmarks/Niveaux de compétence linguistiques canadiens (CLB/NCLC) level 4, the applicant will be scheduled for a language or knowledge hearing. See the instructions on interviews and hearings. The citizenship officer will use the Language Assessment Tool (LAT) or the oral citizenship knowledge test as required.

If the applicant has already taken the written knowledge test (first test or retest), the citizenship officer must ensure that a different version is used for the oral knowledge.

All tests taken by the applicant should be kept on file.

Guidelines and procedures

Security of documents: materials must be kept out of the public domain

All test-related material, including the oral citizenship knowledge test versions, the exclusive pool of questions and the decision makers’ LAT, are classified as Protected B material, but they should be handled as secret documents. Every effort must be made to protect the integrity of the documents used to assess language and knowledge requirements under the Citizenship Act (e.g., material must be locked at all times and cannot be circulated, and photocopies should be made on an as-needed basis only). Under no circumstances should the materials be left in a situation where they can be seen by the public.

If citizenship officers need to leave the interview room for any reason, all tests, files and documents should be stored in a safe place that is not accessible to applicants or third parties present in the room. At all times, ensure that no language and knowledge test documents are taken out of the room by the applicant.

Principles of natural justice and procedural fairness

Citizenship officers should keep in mind the principles of natural justice and should be reasonable and consistent when using their discretion to make a decision. Clear notes and answers should be recorded on the knowledge test document and the LAT in the “Respondent’s answer” or “Applicant’s answer” section in order to justify and explain all decisions if required (e.g., judicial review at the Federal Court).

Deaf applicants

For applicants who are deaf, in certain circumstances, a sign language interpreter may be used during the hearing or a waiver for language or knowledge may be requested. For additional information, see the instructions on citizenship knowledge testing and the Administering the written knowledge test to applicants with special needs section.

Mandatory hearing preamble

The hearing preamble must be read to the applicant and interpreter or representative, if applicable, before assessing the language requirement or administering the oral knowledge test. The preamble speaks to the confidential nature of both the LAT and the oral knowledge test.

Administering and marking the oral citizenship knowledge test

  • The oral knowledge test has 20 questions.
  • Citizenship officers should not ask more than 20 questions during a hearing.
  • Each applicant must obtain a minimum score of 15 out of 20 to pass the test, and the score must be recorded on the test.
  • Each question is worth a mark of one; no partial marks can be given.
  • For each question, suggested responses are included in the oral test version.
  • Citizenship officers must indicate on the test all answers provided by the applicant (i.e., correct and incorrect answers).
  • If the applicant does not provide an answer to any given question, citizenship officers must indicate this by ticking the box “No answer provided”.
  • For each question, an applicant who answers correctly (based on the suggested answer provided for the question) gets a mark of one.
  • If the applicant answers incorrectly, they obtain zero for each incorrect answer.
  • Applicants must give all of the correct answers to questions requiring multiple answer elements in order to obtain a correct answer and a mark of one.
  • No signal should be given to the applicant indicating if the applicant’s answer was correct or incorrect to any of the questions.
  • If necessary, the applicant has the opportunity to go back to their answers and change them during the hearing.

Monitoring of the oral citizenship knowledge test template

Every time an oral knowledge test is conducted during a hearing with an applicant, citizenship officers must complete the Monitoring of the oral citizenship knowledge test template for statistical purposes. In addition, this information helps the National Headquarters (NHQ) find out about the performance of each test question during hearings. Therefore, citizenship officers must make sure to add any comments on specific questions and test versions and propose reformulations that they think would make a test question more understandable in an oral context.

Administering the citizenship language assessment at a language hearing

General guidelines

  • The language assessment must be conducted in the applicant’s language of choice (English or French). The LAT used during the evaluation should be in the same language as the applicant’s language of choice.
  • Applicants are required to pass a minimum of six questions.
  • The assessor can ask up to nine questions.
  • The assessor should not ask more than nine questions during a language hearing.
  • For each question, an applicant who answers correctly (i.e., the response needs to meet the matching criteria) gets a mark of one.
  • Each question is worth a mark of one; no partial marks are acceptable.
  • If the applicant answers incorrectly, they obtain zero for each incorrect answer.
  • Each applicant must obtain a total score of either six out of six, six out of seven, six out of eight, or six out of nine to demonstrate their language competencies at Canadian Language Benchmarks/Niveaux de compétence linguistiques canadiens (CLB/NCLC) level 4; as soon as the applicant receives a score of six correct responses (within a frame of six to nine questions maximum), the assessor does not need to proceed further with the assessment.
  • For each question, citizenship officers write down the applicant’s responses using the exact words of the applicant (i.e., verbatim).
  • Citizenship officers must indicate on the test all answers provided by the applicant (i.e., correct and incorrect answers).
  • If the applicant does not provide an answer to any given question, citizenship officers must indicate this by ticking the box “No answer provided”.
  • No signal should be given to the applicant indicating if the applicant’s answer to any of the questions was correct or incorrect.
  • If necessary, the applicant has the opportunity to go back to their answers and change them during the hearing.

Pre-November 2012 version of the LAT (dated March 15, 2012)

This version must be used to assess applicants who filed their application before November 1, 2012. Five language criteria are taken into consideration (see page 4 of the LAT). From these criteria, six specific language abilities are assessed (see the column entitled “Did the applicant” on the right-hand side of pages 5 and 6 of the LAT). Applicants must pass each of the language abilities.

November 2012 version of the LAT (dated November 1, 2012)

This version must be used to assess applicants who filed their application on or after November 1, 2012. Four criteria are assessed (see page 4 of the LAT). From these, two are assessed twice (i.e., criteria “a”: Take part in short, routine conversations about everyday topics and criteria “d”: Use vocabulary that is adequate for routine oral communication). Two questions are asked for these two criteria to provide applicants with the opportunity to demonstrate that they meet these criteria.

Use of interpreters

The use of language interpreters at the language or knowledge hearing is not permitted. However, a language interpreter can be present at the beginning of the language or knowledge hearing when the officer is explaining the purpose of the assessment. Following the language or knowledge assessment, the language interpreter can be called back into the interview room to explain what happens next in the process.

Exception: For applications received at the CPC-S prior to June 11, 2015, applicants are permitted to use an interpreter during the knowledge assessment, if necessary.

The use of sign language interpreters for deaf applicants is permitted even when administering the language or knowledge hearing for signing in American Sign Language (ASL) or Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) the test questions to deaf applicants.

Note: Interpreters are permitted to accompany an applicant during a hearing to assess any of the other citizenship requirements, such as the residence requirement. See Persons acting as interpreters (instructions for citizenship officers and case processing agents) and Accompanying persons (instructions for citizenship officers and case processing agents)

Concerns with an interpreter

In conducting hearings, citizenship officers have the discretion to halt or stop the hearing if they feel that the interpreter is not providing a faithful interpretation of the questions asked or of the answers provided by the applicant. The hearing will be rescheduled, and the applicant will be directed to provide a different interpreter. See Persons acting as interpreters (instructions for citizenship officers and case processing agents).

Procedure following the oral hearing for knowledge and language

Applicant passes

An applicant qualifies for citizenship if they meet the language and knowledge requirements as well as all other requirements for citizenship. The citizenship officer’s decision and question sheet(s) must remain in the applicant’s file.

Applicant fails

If the applicant fails the language assessment or knowledge test in the oral hearing, the citizenship officer’s decision and question sheet(s) are placed in the applicant’s file.

The citizenship officer must render a decision on any requests made by the applicant for a waiver of the knowledge or language requirements. The officer must then consider whether to inform the applicant of the option to request a waiver. See the instructions on waivers.

For applications received at the CPC-S before June 11, 2015

If on the day of the hearing, the applicant is 54 years of age and fails the knowledge or the language requirements and, before the citizenship officer renders the decision, the applicant turns 55 years of age, the citizenship officer must not refuse the application and instead should apply the automatic waiver on knowledge/language for applicants over 55 years of age.

For applications received at the CPC-S on or after June 11, 2015

Applicants who turn 55 years of age during processing must meet language and knowledge requirements, as the Act stipulates that applicants who are under 55 years of age at the date of application must meet these requirements.

Assessment of any other requirements under the Citizenship Act

Citizenship officers have the authority to assess any of the requirements for citizenship, even those not part of the scheduled hearing, if they have doubts that the applicant does not meet the requirement. Applicants are informed of this in their Notice to Appear – Interview with a Citizenship Officer form. In order to ensure procedural fairness, in situations where an officer has concerns as to whether an applicant satisfies one of the other requirements, these concerns should be clearly raised with the applicant, and the applicant should be provided with an opportunity to respond at and/or after the hearing, depending on the requirement. However, residence requirements must be referred to a citizenship judge for further determination if the citizenship officer is unable to render a positive decision. See the instructions on residence requirements.

Note: If the applicant has not met one requirement, it is not necessary to assess the other requirements, as their application can be refused on one criterion.

If the test is compromised

Should a problem or situation that could potentially compromise the LAT or the oral citizenship knowledge test versions be identified, citizenship officers must immediately notify the local office management who will then notify the Citizenship Program Delivery Division as soon as they become aware of the incident. This is to allow the Department to take the appropriate action (e.g., a test version was left unattended with an applicant or an applicant left with a copy of the oral citizenship knowledge test or the LAT).

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