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English Language Test for UK Visas

Before applying for UK settlement, citizenship or a number of other visas, many applicants are first required to prove their English language ability by passing an approved ‘Secure English Language Test’.

The Home Office only stipulates speaking and listening skills to be tested for British citizenship applications, though there is also a requirement that the applicant pass a “Life in the UK” test on British values, traditions, history, government and law.

But many visa applicants from non-English speaking countries are required to pass English language tests before obtaining a UK visa.

Tel con brit

Which Secure English Language Test is required for my application?

The Home Office requires visa applicants to meet one of the English language proficiency levels outlined in the Common European Framework (CEF).

Applicants for citizenship or settlement in the UK are required to prove their knowledge of the English language by obtaining a speaking and listening qualification at the CEF’s B1 level.

Applicants for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), (Entrepreneur) and (Graduate Entrepreneur) Visas, Tier 2 (General) Visas, and Tier 4 (General) Visas (below degree level) must obtain a B1 level certificate in speaking and listening as well as reading and writing.

Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) Visa applicants are required to obtain a B2 proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Applicants for Tier 2 (Sportsperson) Visas are required to meet the A1 level in speaking and listening, the lowest CEF level. As of 1 May 2017, ‘Family of Settled Person’ Visas must obtain an A2 level.

In most cases, degree level students attending an approved university are not required to demonstrate any language proficiency to obtain a visa, though the individual university may have their own criteria for admission.

Professions requiring the English Language Test 

Some UK professional bodies, like the General Medical Council, require foreign-trained members to demonstrate further English language skills before practising in the UK.

From 1 October 2016, London’s private hire drivers from countries that do not predominantly speak English will be required to pass a B1 level written English language exam to receive or renew their licence.

Rideshare driving service Uber has announced that it will apply to the High Court for judicial review of the proposal.

A spokesman from Uber is reported to have said that the requirement means thousands are at risk of losing their livelihood. It claims that the written test is, at approximately £200, extortionately priced and entirely unnecessary for the role of a private driver. “This exam is harder than the test for British citizenship,” Uber said in an email to its London riders.

When is a Test Required?

There are many exemptions to the English Language Test requirement.

Only applicants above the age of 18 and under the age of 65 are subject to testing.

If an applicant has a degree, masters or PhD taught or researched in English, this will usually exclude them from the requirement.

Nationals from listed countries that predominantly speak English are also exempt. These include:

  • Antigua and Barbuda;
  • Australia;
  • The Bahamas;
  • Barbados;
  • Belize;
  • Canada;
  • Dominica;
  • Grenada;
  • Guyana;
  • Jamaica;
  • New Zealand;
  • Republic of Ireland (for citizenship only);
  • St Kitts and Nevis;
  • St Lucia;
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines;
  • Trinidad and Tobago; and
  • USA.

If an applicant can supply a doctor’s letter confirming that the person has a long-term, physical or mental condition that prevents them from taking the test they will also be exempt.

For settlement visas, there are further exemptions for any applicant who is:

  • a victim of domestic violence as the partner or spouse of a British citizen;
  • the partner or spouse of a British citizen who has died;
  • an adult, dependent relative of someone who is present and settled in the UK and is a refugee or has humanitarian protection;
  • a refugee living in the UK;
  • a person with discretionary leave;
  • a person with humanitarian protection;
  • a person with leave to reside in the UK as a retired person of independent means;
  • a Commonwealth citizen on discharge from HM Forces;
  • a highly skilled migrant applying under the terms of the highly skilled migrant program (HSMP); or
  • someone in exceptional circumstances.

Secure English Language Test Qualifications

Applicants must prove that they have a recognised qualification obtained from an approved test centre, located throughout the UK and around the world.

The UK Trinity College and Cambridge English Language Assessment are the only two recognised test providers for UK visa applications.

The test that the applicant must sit and the grade required of them will depend on the level of proficiency required for a particular visa.

Under the CEF, a B1 level speaker will proficiently “deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken” and “produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest”.

Some of the language qualifications are only valid for two years.

If, however, a person applies for citizenship and their B1 certificate was previously accepted when that person settled in the UK, they do not need to take another test.

When applying for settlement, if a B1 qualification remains on the current list of recognised tests and was accepted for a previous immigration application, the applicant would not be required to take another test.

If you have any queries about English language tests, applying for citizenship or any other visa-related issue, please contact us for advice.

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