The English language requirement for applicants joining their partners in the UK was introduced on 29 November 2010. Under the Immigration Rules Appendix FM, this requirement applies to anyone applying for entry clearance from outside the UK or leave to remain (extending their visas) from within the UK as a fiancé(e), proposed civil partner, spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner or same-sex partner of a British citizen, settled person (ILR) or more recently partners of people with pre-settled status (under the EU Settlement scheme).
It is necessary to prove to the Home Office that you satisfy the correct English language requirement when making a first partner application, any subsequent extensions, and at the time you apply for indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) and even British Citizenship. And each application requires you to demonstrate a different level of English unless the requirement is met through an academic qualification or an exemption applies.
Usually, if your academic qualification does not meet the criteria for the English language requirement, you will have to take an additional test. If you cannot prove how you meet the English language requirement or how you are exempt from it then your application will be rejected.
English Language requirement for a UK Partner visa
The English language requirement can be met in any one of the following ways:
- by having passed an approved English language test at or above the required CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) level as described below; or
- by being a national of a specified majority English-speaking country; or
- By obtaining an academic qualification at a degree level or above taught in English.
Which English language test do I need to pass?
The level of English required will depend on the application you are making, whether you are applying as a fiancé(e), a married partner or an unmarried partner.
For entry clearance as a Partner, Fiancé(e) or an Unmarried Partner, you must pass a speaking and listening test at a level minimum to CEFR A1.
For further leave to remain as a Spouse or an Unmarried Partner visa, you must pass a speaking and listening test at a level minimum to CEFR A2.
For indefinite leave to remain as a Partner, you must show ‘sufficient knowledge of the language in the UK’. This means you must pass a test at a minimum level of CEFR B1. The same level applies to applications for British Citizenship.
Applicants will have to meet the English language requirement at CEFR level A1 for leave to remain applications where they were previously exempt from the English language requirement, but this exemption no longer applies. If the applicant is still exempt, they will not have to pass the test. The English language requirement will only apply to the main applicant and not their dependents. The applicant can sit a higher-level test than what is required to meet the English language requirement.
Do I even need to prove the English language requirement?
You do not need to prove your knowledge of English if any of the following applies:
- You are applying as a child;
- You are applying as an adult coming to be cared for by a relative;
- You have been in the UK on a family visa for 5 years and you are extending it as a partner or parent;
- You are over 65;
- You have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting the requirement and you have a doctor letter to confirm this;
- You are a national of one of the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Malta, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago or USA.
Does my degree meet the English requirement?
If your qualification is from a UK university or college, you only need your degree certificate (Bachelors or Masters) or a PHD. You must ensure that your UK degree certificate must include the following information:
- the applicant’s name;
- the title of the award;
- the date of the award;
- the name of the awarding institution.
If your degree is from another country, then the degree certificate will need to be submitted along with confirmation from the National Academic Recognition Information Centre for the UK (Ecctis) that:
- The degree was taught or researched at CEFR Level A1 or A2; and
- The qualification is equivalent or greater than the recognised standard of a Bachelors/Masters degree or PhD in the UK.
Further, you need a statement of comparability if you got your qualification from a university or college in one of these countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Malta, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago or USA. However, if you got your qualification from a university or college in any other country, you need a visa and nationality statement.
How to take the English language test
To meet the English language requirement, the test must be taken at a Home Office-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT) centre; otherwise, your application will be refused.
There are four approved test providers where you may take the English language test within the UK:
If you are outside of the UK, you must use one of the following providers:
In your application form, you will be required to provide a SELT unique reference number (URN) that you will receive after passing the test. The Home Office will use the URN to verify the test result on the provider’s online verification system. Soon after you pass the test, you will be awarded an English language certificate.
In case you fail your English language test, you can retake it and have as many attempts as needed to pass it. As long as you provide a passing result in your application, it does not matter how many times it took to pass the test.
Find an approved test
For your results to be accepted, your test must:
- be on the list of approved English language tests
- have been sat at an approved test location
- have been awarded the two years before the date of your application
The list of approved English language tests has been assessed as meeting Home Office requirements under the secure English language testing arrangements. Only those tests and test levels specified are approved. If you intend to use an English language test in your immigration or nationality application, you must take one of the tests on the list.
You should make sure the test that you book is the one approved for SELT:
- Pearson: ‘PTE Academic UKVI’ or ‘PTE Home’
- PSI Services: ‘Skills for English UKVI’
- Trinity College London: ‘Secure English Language Tests for UKVI’ – Integrated Skills in English (ISE) or Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE)
- IELTS SELT Consortium: ‘IELTS for UKVI’ or ‘IELTS Life Skills’
- LanguageCert: ‘LanguageCert International ESOL SELT’
It is for you to decide which test to take.
The list of approved tests gives the CEFR level and minimum grade requirements for each level.
Where 2 or more components (reading, writing, speaking and listening) of a test are examined and awarded together, for example, a combined exam and certificate for reading and writing skills, you must show that you achieved the required scores in all the relevant components during a single sitting of that examination, unless you were exempt from sitting a component based on a disability.
How to book an English language test
You should be able to take a test within 28 days of booking, but it may not always be at the location nearest to you. If there is no approved test location in your country, you will have to travel to another country to take the test.
The details used to book your test must be the same as on your passport or another identity document. If your surname has changed, you will still need to book the test in the name on your passport or identity document. If you wish to book your test using your changed surname, you must change the name in your passport or identity document before booking your test.
Prove your identity on the day of the test
You will need to provide evidence of your identity at the test location before you can take the test.
Your identity document must:
- be current and valid
- be an original, not a photocopy
- include a photo of you
- match the information you gave when you booked the test
If your identity document has a signature, this will also be checked.
The details used to book your test must match the document you provide at the test location.
If you cannot prove your identity, you will not be allowed to take a test.
You can use the following documents as identification for tests taken in the UK and outside the UK:
- UK Biometric Residence Permit
- UK Biometric Residence Card
- convention travel document
- stateless persons travel document
What happens after the English language test?
After you pass the test, you will be given a SELT unique reference number which you must use when making your application. Your application may be refused if you do not include your reference number.
You will find your SELT unique reference number on your test result as:
- ‘UER’ for Trinity College London tests
- ‘UKVI number’ for IELTS SELT Consortium tests
- ‘Candidate URN’ for LanguageCert tests
- ‘SELT URN’ for Pearson tests
- ‘URN’ for PSI Skills for English tests
You do not need to submit any documents as part of the immigration or nationality application. Test results and scores are checked using the SELT online verification system provided by each approved SELT test provider using a SELT unique reference number.
If you took a test in the UK, you can use your result for UK and overseas applications. You can also use tests taken overseas for applications made in the UK.
Test results are valid for 2 years from the date the test is awarded.
Frequently asked questions
To qualify for a UK spouse visa you must satisfy the following requirements:
– You and your spouse must be 18 years old or over;
– You must have met each other and be legally married;
– You must intend to live together permanently;
– You must have enough money to support yourselves (and any dependents);
– Your sponsoring partner must earn more than £18,600 per year or have enough savings to be able to sponsor you. The minimum financial requirement is higher if they are also sponsoring dependant children;
– You must have adequate accommodation for you, your spouse and any dependants;
– You must satisfy the English language requirements as mentioned above.
CEFR stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, this was put together by the Council of Europe to provide a basis for the mutual recognition of language qualifications. Its six levels are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading a person’s language proficiency.
Examples of exceptional circumstances might include where the applicant:
– is a long-term resident of a country in international or internal armed conflict, or where there is or has been a humanitarian disaster;
– is a long-term resident of a country with no approved test provision and it is not practicable or reasonable for the applicant to travel to another country to take such a test;
– has been hospitalised for several months immediately prior to the date of application; or
is the full-time carer of a disabled child also applying to come to the UK.