If you are looking to apply for a UK visa, you may be required by the Home Office to prove your knowledge of the English language by way of a government-approved test, known as the IELTS for UKVI.
The following guide looks at the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in the context of UK immigration visa applications, from who will be required to take an approved test to how to book a test.
What is IELTS for UKVI?
‘IELTS UKVI’ refers to the UK government-approved English Language tests used by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office responsible for the United Kingdom’s visa system.
UKVI provides a list of Secure English Language Tests (SELTS), setting out the English language qualification(s) required for each category of visa application, including ‘IELTS for UKVI’ and ‘IELTS Life Skills’.
IELTS is essentially an international standardised test that measures the English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is also one of the most popular English language proficiency tests for higher education and global migration worldwide.
IELTS is accepted as evidence of language proﬁciency for study, work and migration in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, as well as for study and work in the USA, although each country sets its own IELTS requirements.
For UK visa purposes, ‘IELTS for UKVI’ and ‘IELTS Life Skills’ are designed to meet certain administrative requirements that are specific to UK Visas and Immigration, although there is actually no material difference in either the level of difficulty, the content or format, or even the examiners or scoring system, to IELTS tests used for all other purposes.
That said, the report forms for those tests designed to meet the requirements of UK Visas and Immigration will be slightly different to those used otherwise, as UKVI will not accept results from other locations. As such, these forms are simply to show that applicants have taken the test at an IELTS UKVI visa session.
What are the different types of IELTS tests?
The IELTS test you take, together with the score you need, will depend on your UK visa requirements and/or the requirements of the institution where you plan to study or work. In circumstances where you are taking the IELTS test to support a UK visa application, you will need to take either the ‘IELTS for UKVI’ test or the ‘IELTS Life Skills’ test.
Under IELTS for UKVI there are two different training modules: Academic or General Training, either of which is accepted as proof of English proficiency for those wishing to live, work and study in the UK.
The different IELTS UKIVI tests can be explained as follows:
- IELTS for UKVI (Academic) – this measures whether your level of English language proficiency is suitable for an academic environment, evaluating whether you are ready to begin training or studying. This is for applicants who need to prove to UKVI their proficiency in English language to study at either undergraduate or postgraduate levels, as well as for those seeking professional registration in the UK.
- IELTS for UKVI (General Training) – this measures English language proficiency in a practical everyday context, where the tasks and tests reflect both workplace and social situations. This is for applicants who need to prove to UKVI their proficiency in English language to train or study below degree level, or to migrate to the UK.
- IELTS Life Skills – there are three different levels here, the A1, A2 and B1. The Al level is for those who need to prove their English speaking and listening skills as part of their application to UKVI for a visa as a family member of a settled person, whilst the A2 level is for those wanting to extend a partner or parent visa. Finally, the B1 test is for those applying for either indefinite leave to remain or British citizenship.
Each of the IELTS Life Skills tests corresponds to A1, A2 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). These are the guidelines recognised by UKVI for measuring language ability.
Who needs the IELTS for UKVI?
Evidence of English language ability to the required CEFR level is a requirement for many UK visa applicants. Below we look at which IELTS test you will need to take and what score you will require for each type of UK visa, based on the required minimum CEFR level and skills for that particular category of visa. For example:
- Tier 2 (General) visa – this will require CEFR level B1 including reading, writing, speaking and listening for which you will need to score 4.0 overall and for each of the four skills in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa – this will require CEFR level A1 for which you will need to pass the IELTS Life Skills at A1, or score 4.0 overall and for both speaking and listening skills in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa – this will require CEFR level B2 including reading, writing, speaking and listening for which you will need to score 5.5 overall and for each of the four skills in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Tier 4 (General student) visa, below degree level – this will require CEFR level B1 including reading, writing, speaking and listening for which you will need to score 4.0 overall and for each of the four skills in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Tier 4 (General student) visa, degree level and above – this will require CEFR level B2 including reading, writing, speaking and listening for which you will need to score 5.5 overall and for each of the four skills in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Family of a settled person visa – this will require CEFR level A1 for which you will need to pass the IELTS Life Skills at A1 or score 4.0 in speaking and listening in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Family of a settled person visa extension (available only in the UK) – this will require CEFR level A2 for which you will need to pass the IELTS Life Skills at A2 or score 4.0 in speaking and listening in the IELTS for UKVI test.
- Indefinite Leave to Remain or British citizenship – these will require CEFR level B1 for which you will need to pass the IELTS Life Skills at B1 or score 4.0 in speaking and listening in the IELTS for UKVI test.
If you intend to study a course at degree level or above at a Higher Education Institution (HEI), it is not necessary for you to pass a SELT test. As such, the HEI can determine its own methods to assess your English language ability.
If you intend to study a course below degree level, regardless of the type of academic institution, you must pass a SELT test to meet the English language requirements. All British universities and colleges accept IELTS Academic results, which means that you may not need to take an IELTS for UKVI (Academic) test, but instead can submit an IELTS Academic result.
As such, you should always check with your course provider as to what test and band score is required for your particular course. Further, the band scores set out above for Tier 4 visa applications are the minimum requirements for UKVI, whereby certain academic institutions may set a higher entry requirement.
IELTS for UKVI exemptions
In certain circumstances, applicants may not need to satisfy the English language requirement, for example, where you are a national of a majority English-speaking country you should automatically meet this requirement.
You may also satisfy the English language requirement if you hold a UK Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or PhD, or have an academic qualification that was taught or researched in English and that qualification is recognised as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree or higher.
Further, if you are applying under the family route, you may be exempt from the requirement in any one of the following circumstances:
- You are aged 65 or over
- You have a disability which prevents you from meeting the requirement
- There are exceptional circumstances that prevent you from being able to meet the requirement.
To qualify for an exemption on the basis of exceptional circumstances, you must demonstrate that you are unable to learn English before coming to the UK or that it is not practicable or reasonable for you to travel to another country to take an approved English test. However, each application for an exemption will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
This list of exemptions is not exhaustive, so expert advice should always be sought before submitting an application to UK Visas and Immigration without having first passed either the IELTS for UKVI or IELTS Life Skills test.
Where can the IELTS for UKVI test be taken?
IELTS is available worldwide, in locations specified by UKVI. However, you must confirm at the time of registration that you wish to use your test result for a UK visa application. Test dates will be available within 28 days of booking your test.
You must sit the test at a location authorised by UKVI under specified conditions, as UKVI will not accept results from other testing locations. Having taken the test, you will receive an IELTS report form to show that your test met the ‘IELTS for UKVI’ or ‘IELTS Life Skills’ requirements.
In certain locations the IELTS for UKVI (Academic) test is also available on computer, whilst the UKVI Life Skills A2 test for an extension to a partner or parent visa is only available in the UK.
What does the IELTS UKVI test involve?
The IELTS UKVI tests are designed to assess UK visa applicants on their English language competencies required to obtain a particular category of visa.
The IELTS for UKVI (Academic) and (General Training) tests comprise of four parts: reading (60 minutes), writing (60 minutes), listening (30 minutes) and speaking (11-14 minutes). The reading, writing and listening tests are done in one sitting, whilst the speaking test may be on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.
The IELTS Life Skills test comprises only of speaking and listening. Both aspects are completed in one short session, face-to-face with an examiner and with one other test taker. The IELTS Life Skills at CEFR Level A1 takes 16-18 minutes, whereas Level A2 takes 20 minutes and Level B1 takes 22 minutes.
In the Life Skills test you will be asked to conduct a structured conversation to demonstrate that you can listen and respond to a number of tasks using conversational English needed for living in the UK. This will be on everyday subjects such as family and friends, work, health, leisure, transport and weather.
IELTS uses a nine-band scale scoring system to measure levels of proficiency and to report test scores clearly and consistently. You receive individual band scores for each of the relevant skills, with an overall band score on a scale from 1-9.
To prepare for the test you can improve your skills by using the IELTS official practice materials. Some test centres also offer preparatory courses and language classes.
How to book your IELTS test
You will need to book your IELTS UKVI test using the relevant online booking system, where the details used to book your test must be as stated on your passport or other identity document. IELTS has a set fee for its test. These are currently set at the following rates:
- IELTS for UKVI (Academic & General Training) – £200
- IELTS Life Skills (A1, A2 & B1) – £150.
On the day of your test you will need to provide evidence of your identity at the test centre before you will be allowed to take the test. This will need to be by way of a valid passport or travel document, or valid biometric residence permit. These documents must be originals and include a photograph.
IELTS For UKVI: FAQs
What are the different types of IELTS test?
The different IELTS UKIVI tests are IELTS for UKVI (Academic), IELTS for UKVI (General Training) and IELTS Life Skills.
What is IELTS for UKVI?
The International English Language Testing System IELTS test is a Home Office approved test required by UK visa applicants to evidence their English language ability. IELTS is a Secure English Language Test (SELT) and requires a pass rate of 7.0 in Reading, Speaking and Listening, and 6.5 for Writing.
What is the difference between IELTS and UKVI IELTS?
UKVI Academic IELTS is required for UK Home Office applications. It is more difficult than the IELTS and has a lower pass rate, but it is also cheaper.
Last updated: 6 February 2020