15 November 2016
In January 2016, the UK Home Office announced a new English language requirement for foreign nationals applying to extend their existing settlement visa or leave to remain under the family route. Non-EEA partners and spouses of British citizens and UK legal permanent residents wishing to extend their existing leave after completing their initial two and a half year probationary period in the UK will soon have to pass a mandatory English test at A2 level.
The purpose behind the new requirement is to ensure that those living in the UK on a settlement spouse or partner visa continue to learn English and increase their fluency over time. That is, a wife, husband or unmarried partner from non-majority English speaking countries who is taking the family immigration path to remain in the UK, will have to prove that they possess a specified higher level of English. The new Home Office requirement will be effective from May 2017 onwards. It will apply to all individuals whose leave to enter or remain as a partner or spouse is due to expire on or after May 1, 2017 apart from nationals of majority English speaking countries and who hold a degree taught or researched in English. Applicants over 65 and those who have a disability which impedes them from fulfilling the requirement or can prove exceptional circumstances are exempt.
The English language requirements for family migrants have been present in UK immigration law since November 2010. Currently partners and spouses of British citizens and permanent residents are required to show they have at least an A1 speaking and listening comprehension level before they can apply for a settlement fiancée, de facto partner or spousal visa to enter or remain in the UK. The new A2 requirement only affects partners and spouses who have already been living in the UK for two and a half years and who wish to remain further. Those applying for an initial fiancée, partner or marriage visa from outside the UK will still be required to pass an A1 level English test. Once in the UK, first time family visa holders will be required to pass a higher A2 level English test before they can apply to extend their existing visas from inside the UK. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) aims to encourage non-EEA nationals to learn English so they can integrate into British society as quickly as possible. By ensuring that all those wishing to remain in the UK progressively improve their English level, the government feels that immigrants will be more likely to find work and adapt well to their new country.
There are specific providers that are approved under the Immigration Rules to provide A2 level speaking and listening tests for non-EEA nationals applying for further leave to remain as a partner or spouse. These are Trinity College London and IELTS SELT Consortium. The UKVI English test for partners applying to extend their existing UK settlement visa or leave to remain are designed to confirm the applicant’s fluency in speaking and listening to ensure they can understand short, simple, clear messages and announcements. In the speaking part of the test, the candidate must be able to follow a simple factual conversation or express simple opinions.
The UKVI-approved Trinity College London and IELTS listening and speaking tests for partners and spouses last a total of seven minutes and are undertaken with one examiner. Candidates can prepare for the exam online or can opt to follow an accredited English language course.