As of 28 October 2013, there will be two separate requirements regarding the Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK (KOLL) criteria concerning applications for residence or settlement (indefinite leave to remain or ILR) and naturalisation. Although there will be some exemptions these changes will apply to a large number of applicants. As well as now having to pass the Life in the UK test, applicants will soon also need to possess an English language speaking and listening qualification at the level of B1 CEFR or higher, or an equivalent qualification.
Before the changes come into effect, all applicants for settlement or naturalisation in the UK are required to show an acceptable level of knowledge of the English language, as well as an understanding of British history, traditions and culture. This has been the case since the Knowledge of Life in the UK (KOL) requirement was introduced for citizenship applications in 2005, and settlement applications (also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR) in 2007.
Before 28 October 2013, knowledge of the English language could be demonstrated by applicants from non-majority English speaking countries by either successfully taking a Life in the UK test, or by holding an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualification. It is this requirement which is now about to change.
New KOLL requirements
For adults (aged 18 or over) applying for UK settlement either as the main applicant or as an adult dependent, they will be required to meet the KOLL criteria. These requirements will apply to adult children of persons settled in the UK, as well as adult children applying for indefinite leave to remain as a dependent. Although applying to the majority of cases, in some scenarios there may be exceptions to the rule.
Regarding individuals applying for UK naturalisation under section 6(1) and section 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981, these individuals will also need to satisfy the KOLL requirements. Again, there will be some scenarios in which exceptions may apply.
The Life in the UK test
Although changes are being made to the KOLL English language requirement that will affect ILR applications made on or after 28 October 2013, the actual Life in the UK test itself will not be changing. The test will continue to be a multiple choice test which is completed on a computer in any one of a number of test centres located around the UK and operated by learndirect on behalf of the Home Office.
Since 25 March 2013, the test has been built around the official Home Office handbook called “Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents” and will continue to be so. Any pass certificates issued for tests completed prior to 25 March 2013 will continue to be accepted after the changes are made on 28 October 2013. This includes applicants who have passed the test based on the previous handbook; these applicants will not be expected to retake the test even if an application for naturalisation or settlement is made after 28 October 2013.
For those who wish to take the test in either Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, this will still be possible in Wales and Scotland respectively. The process of booking a Life in the UK test will also remain the same and can be booked through the official website.
English language qualifications accepted after 28 October 2013
When these changes come into effect on 28 October 2013 and an English language qualification at the level of B1 CEFR or higher (or an equivalent qualification) is necessary, the following qualifications will be accepted for UK settlement and naturalisation applications:
Any qualification which is concerned with speaking and listening at B1 level or higher;
ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) qualifications awarded at Entry level 3, Level 1 or Level 2 that contain speaking and listening elements will be accepted, as long as they have been awarded under the regulations of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). The awarded qualification must be included as an ESOL qualification on the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications and taken in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
A National Qualification in ESOL at Scottish Qualifications Framework (SCQF) levels 4, 5 or 6 awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be accepted.
Any of these qualifications will be taken as evidence that the applicant meets the new English language speaking and listening requirements. Anyone currently holding one of these qualifications will not need to take another one, whereas applicants not currently holding one of these qualifications will be able to find a suitable English language course.
No particular institutions or accredited colleges are included as a requirement of holding these qualifications for KOLL requirements. Applicants are free to study for these qualifications at any college, as long as the minimum B1 level is met.
Applicants holding a degree qualification taught in English
One of the exceptions to the requirement for a B1 level qualification in English is if an applicant currently holds a degree qualification taught through the medium of English. This degree qualification must not be a vocational or professional one, and the applicant must produce sufficient evidence that English was the language used throughout the degree process. A degree qualification gained through the English language will replace the KOLL English language qualification requirement. The degree in question must meet the required level of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or PhD in the UK as deemed by UK NARIC.
Despite holding a degree qualification taught in English, all applicants must still pass the Life in the UK test as part of the KOLL requirement, in order to demonstrate they have sufficient knowledge of life, history and culture in the UK.
Exceptions for nationals of majority English speaking countries
For applicants who are nationals of majority English speaking countries, the requirement to possess relevant English language speaking and listening qualifications at the level of B1 CEFR or higher will not apply. Again, the requirement to pass the Life in the UK test will still stand for all applicants, regardless of nationality. Nationals of the following countries will not be expected to hold a relevant English language qualification:
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States of America. For naturalisation purposes, the Republic of Ireland is included in this list.
Applicants who already hold a B1 level qualification
For any applicant who is already in possession of a B1 level English language qualification there will be no requirement to take another one. Any applicant who successfully demonstrated the knowledge of the English language to B1 level or higher during the entry clearance application process will not be required to complete any further tests in order to gain settlement.
Settlement granted under the old rules
Any application made for naturalisation must be made under the current KOLL requirements. Some applicants will find that this means they must pass an acceptable qualification to display satisfactory English language speaking and listening skills. Some applicants may find that qualifications they currently hold are not at a sufficiently high level, and so may be required to gain a suitable one. In any case, applicants who have previously passed the Life in the UK test will not be required to do so again.
Settlement granted under the new rules
Any applicant who meets the Life in the UK settlement requirements on or after 28 October 2013 will not have to retake any part of it during any later application for naturalisation. These applicants will be automatically deemed to fulfil the KOLL requirement. If, however, the KOLL requirements change in the future, all applicants will be required to meet the criteria being used at the time.
Groups exempted from KOLL requirements
The following groups will be exempted from the KOLL requirement for UK settlement and naturalisation purposes: children under the age of 18 and adults aged 65 or above. Also excluded are individuals with a mental or physical condition which prevents them from learning English to the desired level, or from taking the Life in the UK test.
Other exemptions scenarios
In many cases where adult dependent relatives are applying for UK settlement (indefinite leave to remain or ILR) being over the age of 65 for having a disability may be more common. One of these criteria may often apply to retired persons of independent means; in any case, applicants belonging to one of these groups will be exempted from the KOLL requirement.
Particularly vulnerable groups will also be excluded from the requirements, such as the spouses of British citizens or other persons currently settled in the UK who are the victims of domestic violence, or whose spouse has died.
Any applicants seeking humanitarian protection or refugee status will also be exempt from the KOLL requirement as they are deemed to be in more immediate need of protection. Any applicants who have been granted discretionary leave (DL) will also be exempted, although this position is currently under review.
Transitional arrangements for settlement applications
Some applicants, including partners, children and parents of British citizens and UK legal permanent residents, making an application for settlement in the UK, may fall under certain categories which will allow them to have additional periods of limited leave subject to meeting the relevant Immigration Rules in their category. Those categories which may be allowed additional time to meet the necessary requirements by applying for further leave to remain (extension of stay in the UK).
Individuals who have lived in the UK for 15 years or more with limited leave, either as a partner, child or parent (under Appendix FM or the transitional arrangements under Part 8) will be provided with additional provisions to enable them to apply for UK settlement using an English language speaking and listening qualification at A2 CEFR and without passing the Life in the UK test. These provisions will also apply to dependents of a PBS migrant or work permit holder, as well as dependents of HM Forces personnel. However, anyone applying under these provisions will need to present evidence from a qualified individual such as an ESOL teacher that it is not reasonable to expect them to meet the B1 English standard. These provisions may also apply to those applicants living in the UK on the basis of private life or long residence.
Transitional arrangements for naturalisation
There is currently no time limit on applications for citizenship. It is for this reason that there are no transitional arrangements for those applying for naturalisation, and it is recommended that applicants take as much time as is necessary to meet the necessary KOLL requirement.