English language testing in the family route has changed

1 August 2014

In the past, long term residents of countries listed by UK Visas & Immigration (formerly the UK Border Agency) as having no approved A1 English test centre easily available were not required to prove competence in the English language as part of the application process. Since 24 July 2014, however, the exemptions previously in place have been rescinded in the main and so applicants wishing to enter the UK on a fiancee, unmarried partner or spousal visa must now take steps to take the test even though there is no UKVI-approved centre in their country of normal and legal residence. The UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI)’s aim is to ensure that more partners of British citizens and legal permanent residents who will be joining family members in the UK on a settlement visa will enter the country with a good understanding of basic English.

It is expected that integration into British life and society will be much easier for family members entering the UK on a family class visa issued under the settlement category having studied for and succeeded in the A1 testing. An additional benefit will be the reduction in costs if they need to access services or conduct any interviews which may be required because the need for an interpreter or translator will be reduced. After 24 July 2014, applicants who live in countries which do not offer A1 English testing will need to travel to another country to take the test. The Home Office accepts that this is not always possible and so there is a possibility for special exemption, which will not remove the need to take the test. It will have to be passed successfully before a partner or spouse of a British citizen or permanent resident can apply for further leave to remain to stay in the UK. If at that time they are over 65, the need for a test will be waived.

All applicants who feel it is not possible for them to travel to take the test will need to prove that there are difficulties that preclude them from taking it in another country and also, if they have done so, what steps they have taken to attempt to take the test. When applying for family visas for spouse or partner entry the details must be carefully noted and there must also be supporting evidence. Each application for exemption will be assessed individually and will in any case be reassessed in six months, whether successful at the time or not. It is the case that some countries do not provide an A1 testing facility and travelling to a neighbouring country may be very difficult, especially in the case of island nations. In these cases the exemption previously in place will remain, for all applications made by 14 August 2014 and will apply to long term residents of the following countries who wish to enter the UK on a settlement fiancee, partner or marriage visa. Because the Home Office is constantly working to improve the situation regarding A1 language testing, this list is subject to change and anyone wishing to make an application for exemption should check before doing so. The countries at the moment are:- Brunei Darussalam; Burkina Faso; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; Congo; Democratic Republic of Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Guinea-Bissau; Haiti; Ivory Coast; Kiribati; Liberia; Madagascar; Rwanda; Samoa; Sao Tome & Principe; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Somalia; Swaziland; Togo; Turkmenistan and the Wallis and Futuna Islands.

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