The UK has welcomed new settlers for many years, but there has never been a legal requirement for migrants to know or speak English upon arrival. However, do migrants now need to pass English tests to settle in the UK?
Compulsory English Language Tests
In the autumn of 2010, the UK government introduced compulsory English language tests for spouses of UK citizens or permanent residents who apply for visas to settle permanently in the UK.
According to the regulations, spouses who move to the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must be able to demonstrate a basic command of the English language before they apply for their visa.
What is the Intended Purpose of the English Language Tests?
The compulsory English language tests are intended to help new migrants integrate more easily into British society. This in turn will open up more opportunities, prevent exploitation from unscrupulous individuals and allow them to benefit more fully once they have moved to the UK.
The Home Secretary Theresa May stated, “I believe being able to speak English should be a prerequisite for anyone who wants to settle here. The new English requirement for spouses will help promote integration, remove cultural barriers and protect public services. It is a privilege to come to the UK and that is why I am committed to raising the bar for migrants and ensuring that those who benefit from being in Britain contribute to our society.”
Are There Any Exceptions?
The British Embassy in Washington, DC states that the English language requirement does not apply to the spouses of former Gurkhas who were admitted for settlement under the 2009 discretionary arrangements. Nor does this requirement apply to spouses of migrants who come to the UK on temporary visas such as students or workers who are currently under the Points Based System.
Meeting the Basic Standards of English
In order to pass the tests, spouses must demonstrate a basic understanding of English at A1 level CEFR. This is the same level that is required for skilled workers who are admitted to the UK under the Tier 2 of the Points Based System. The A1 test demonstrates quite a basic command of conversational English and phrases that are common in everyday speech. Spouses must use one of the UK Border Agency’s approved English test providers and then submit the evidence of the qualification when they are applying for their visa.
The spouses of UK citizens or permanent residents from outside the EEA must pass English language tests and submit evidence of their qualification before they apply for a visa to settle in the UK.
British Embassy Washington, New English language criteria for migrants marrying UK citizens.