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English language test: mandatory requirement for partners

The English language requirement was first introduced by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on 29 November 2010. Unless subject to an exemption based on age, academic qualifications, physical or mental condition or exceptional compassionate grounds, all visa applicants who are not nationals of a majority English-speaking country as defined by the UKBA, are required to pass a mandatory English test in order to qualify for an unmarried partner, spouse or fiancee visa under the settlement category.

The UKBA list of approved English language test providers has been updated several times since the English language requirement for partners came into force in 2010. Only tests conducted by UKBA-approved organisations such as Cambridge ESOL, City & Guilds, Pearson, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Trinity College etc. will be accepted. Most providers have a wide network of overseas representatives. However, there are some countries that are exempt from the English language requirement due to not having a test centre. If an applicant resides in a country with no test centre, they are not required to pass the test before applying for a UK settlement visa to join their partner in the UK.

Many applicants express concern over the contents of the test, what the test involves, and whether they will be able to pass the test successfully. The UKBA has set the English language test at the A1 standard of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). The CEFR has six levels of proficiency and A1 is seen as the breakthrough or beginner stage. This test involves some of the skills that one would need to use in basic daily life settings. In this test the speaking and listening element is assessed.

An individual at A1 standard would be able to express basic needs verbally, ask simple questions and respond to simple questions if the question is presented slowly. For example, the individual taking the A1 level test must be able to introduce themselves and explain where they live, describe people they may know or have in their family, and understand and relay simple messages such as times, dates and locations of recent meetings.

The recommended study hours required to pass the A1 level test are 40-50 hours for most individuals; however, the amount and type of preparation needed may vary on a case by case basis. Applicants can learn English with the recommended 40-50 hours tuition from any service provider, tutor or institute, but the test must be taken at an accredited centre. Tests can be in high demand depending on the country of application. Therefore, it is advisable for marriage visa applicants to book their appointment with a local test centre as far in advance as possible. Test fees are paid for by the applicant and prices vary from country to country. Unsuccessful applicants can retake the test as many times as necessary, but all repeated attempts will attract a new fee which must be paid in advance.

There are five exemptions to the English language requirement:

  • There is no test centre in the applicant’s country of normal residence.
  • The applicant is aged 65 or over, or under 18 at the time of application.
  • The applicant has a Bachelor’s degree or higher which was taught or researched in English and evaluated by UK NARIC as meeting or exceeding the recognised standard in the UK.
  • The applicant is a national of a majority English-speaking country as defined by the UKBA.
  • Mental or physical incapacity, or exceptional compassionate circumstances, which would prevent the applicant from meeting the English language requirement.

It is important to note that the UK Border Agency will implement a new English language requirement for all applications to settle or naturalise in the UK submitted after 28 October 2013. This will include the English language requirement, which just as at present will test the level of knowledge of the English language possessed by the applicant. The applicant will still have to demonstrate that they can communicate in and comprehend English, but it will be at a B1 level of the CEFR or higher. This level is slightly more in depth than that of A1, which consists of explaining daily routine and basic details. The B1 standard involves being able to absorb and deliver the English language in a more personal and detailed manner. For example, this would involve an applicant being able to make hotel reservations in English, and communicate their desires and queries such as ordering from and asking questions about a menu (without assistance) or other products effectively, in a predictable situation. The applicant at B1 standard must able to communicate and take part in social and professional conversational settings as long as the topic is predictable.

One of our UK immigration consultants is a qualified ESOL / TEFL teacher trained to teach English at levels A – C of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). We can provide support with a personalised lesson plan suited to your loved one’s needs and in adherence with the level of English language needed to meet the UKBA test requirements. Please feel free to contact us for more information.

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