1 April 2015
Effective 6 April 2015, there will be major changes to the mandatory English language requirement for most visa applicants wishing to settle in the UK by virtue of marriage to a British citizen or UK permanent resident. For those applying for a partner or spousal visa within the UK (further leave to remain – FLRm), the only UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI)-approved test centres will be at Trinity College London and IELTS Secure English Language Tests (SELT) Consortium. For fiancée, unmarried (de facto) partner and marriage visa applications made from outside the UK, there will be a number of IELTS test centres available worldwide, with guaranteed access at least four times a year. This will mean that visa applicants who are currently having difficulty in accessing language testing in their country of residence will be better placed and it will ease pressure on the UK centres as well.
A brand new IELTS Life Skills test has been specifically designed for partners and spouses of British citizens and permanent residents applying for a UK settlement visa. Unlike IELTS Academic and General Training modules, the new IELTS Life Skills test only consists of two sections: speaking and listening. It is not essential for applicants to achieve passes in writing or reading in order to apply for a UK settlement visa. Spouse or partner applications only require passes in speaking and listening. Although it may seem on first sight that choices are narrower, this has been done for a reason. Not everyone needs to have the higher levels of academic English which were being offered, as integration into a society is more a matter of basic understanding than perfect English. However, the more advanced applicant’s qualification in English, the stronger their UK marriage visa application.
The UKVI documentation requirements will also alter in the face of the changes after 6 April 2015. For Cambridge English Language Assessments completed before the new measures, applicants must provide a certificate, statement of results or candidate ID number and candidate secret number so they test results can be verified online. After 6 April 2015, it is only necessary to have the online result available, which will include applicant’s name, date of birth and passport number. Anyone who has taken the mandatory English test before 6 April 2015 can use their pass certificate/score sheet as part of their UK settlement marriage or partner visa application until 5 November 2015, even if it is issued by a provider that is no longer recognised by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI). Otherwise, it is imperative that the English test pass certificate is issued by the new UKVI-approved centres. Any tests that have not been taken via an approved centre after 6 April 2015 will not be accepted. The new IELTS Life Skills test can be booked online using the IELTS website from the end of March 2015.
By limiting the number of recognised qualifications for visa applicants, the UK government is attempting to ensure the best possible standards for assessment and additionally hope to secure a framework for the future. On an international level, having a predominant awarding body will also help develop the framework for international business and communication. Prior to these changes, there were four main awarding bodies, IELTS that is run by the British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment, the Trinity College Qualifications that provide basic and GESE level qualifications, City and Guilds and Pearson Education. Now it will only be the IELTS and Trinity College that will be recognised for UK marriage visa applications under the settlement category.
The negative impact may be felt for those within the UK already, who wish to further their language skills, as with a removal of awarding bodies, availability may be affected, particularly as the focus will almost certainly change to those wishing to gain the basic qualifications required for entry as a spouse or partner of a British citizen or UK permanent resident. Therefore those wishing to advance into business and law may need to seek alternative pathways via higher education or vocational training. However, the long-term impact is not known, and at present can be regarded as a positive step to ensure that people entering the country have better opportunities, and also have to adhere to set parameters, and also benefits those outside the UK, as they will be able to follow the same pathway to understanding and communicating in one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.