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New UKBA announcement on the English language requirements


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As we saw yesterday, the topic of English language is de rigueur at the moment. Last week, the UKBA also announced in its April 2013 Statement of Intent that the government is planning changes to the Immigration Rules in relation to the English language requirement when applying for settlement and naturalisation. The planned changes will not take place until 28 October 2013 so, although it seems rare these days, there is some time to take all of this in.

The forthcoming changes will be that persons will now be required to pass both the Life in the UK Test and to pass or already hold a qualification at B1 CEFR (intermediate or its equivalent) or a higher level in the English language in speaking and listening. We’re told that that:

Understanding and being able to use English at a level which facilities interaction with the wider community is key to successful integration. It is also important that those wishing to live permanently in the UK have a basic understanding of the responsibilities which come with settlement, the principles of British democracy and the history and culture from which they flow.

The statement of intent is clear that these proposals do not affect the current English language requirements for those applying for entry clearance or further leave to remain.

For those applying for settlement, the following categories will continue to be exempt and the UKBA will continue to have discretion to recognise that there are some circumstances where exceptions should also be made:

  • Under 18s, over 65s and those who have a physical or mental condition, which severely restricts their ability to learn English and/or communicate and/or take the Life in the UK test
  • Adult dependent relatives and the former route for retired persons of independent means applying for settlement (as the majority of applicants will be over 65 or have a disability)
  • Those applying for settlement as spouses/partners who have been victims of domestic violence or whose spouse/partner has died
  • Refugees and those with Humanitarian Protection
  • Those who hold Discretionary Leave to Remain (although this is being kept under review)

The following categories of applicants will also be able to apply for further leave to remain as opposed to settlement if they are unable to meet these planned changes:

  • Partners, children or parents applying under Appendix FM or subject to transitional arrangements under Part 8
  • Those here on the basis of long residence under paragraph 276A
  • Those here on the basis of ‘private life’ under paragraph 276ADE
  • Those here as dependants of HM forces personnel
  • Dependants of those who originally entered the UK as PBS migrants or work permit holders

In addition, in relation to family members under Appendix FM, dependants of HM forces personnel and dependants of PBS migrants or work permit holders, a provision will also be introduced for those individuals who have been in the UK for 15 years with limited leave to apply for settlement on the basis of a qualification in speaking and listening at A2 CEFR and without passing the Life in the UK Test. They will however need to produce evidence from a suitably qualified person, for example a teacher of ESOL, that it is not reasonable to expect them to reach the B1 level. The UKBA will also consider whether this should be introduced for those here under long residence. I am really not sure how much of a concession this is as 15 years seems pretty long…

The requirement will be the same for naturalisation as that for settlement and the same English language qualifications that were relied upon when applying for settlement will be accepted. Similarly qualifications previously obtained to qualify for entry clearance (e.g. if applying under Tier 2 (General) where B1 or above is required) will also be accepted when applying for settlement and then if applicable for naturalisation. When applying for naturalisation, those over 65 years old and those with a physical or mental condition will continue to be exempt.

However, if a person qualified for settlement without needing to pass a B1 qualification this will need to be done if that person wishes to apply for naturalisation later on post-October 2013.

Now, the range of English language qualifications that will be accepted by the UKBA will need to be:

  • Those that cover speaking and listening at B1 or above from the Home Office’s Secure English Language Test (SELT) list, which can be found in Appendix O in the Immigration Rules
  • ESOL qualifications at entry level 3 or level 1 or level 2, including speaking and listening, that have been regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). The qualification must be listed as an ESOL qualification on the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications and must have been taken in England, Wales or Northern Ireland
  • A National Qualification in ESOL at Scottish Qualifications Framework levels 4, 5 or 6, awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and taken in Scotland.

But importantly applicants will not be required to study at a particular institution nor to follow any particular curriculum. This is in contrast from the current requirement in relation to ESOL courses which need to be studied at an accredited institution on a course of study based on citizenship teaching materials. Sitting the KoLL test will still need to be done in a ‘secure test centre’. I have visions of bouncers on the door but hopefully we haven’t got to that just yet…

Finally, nationals of majority English speaking countries (see Annex A of Statement of Intent) and those who have obtained a degree taught in English will continue to be considered as automatically meeting the English language component.

Otherwise a quick reminder that in addition to any possible Article 8 challenges, there may still be arguments to pursue concerning the equivalence of various English language qualifications against the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference). The UKBA has its own views but as we all know, the teaching and assessment of languages is not an exact science and this previous post may still provide some further background information.

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Sarah Pinder

Sarah is a specialist immigration barrister at Goldsmith Chambers in London. She also practices in family law and has a particular interest in cross-over issues within the two areas of law. Prior to joining the Bar, Sarah worked for 6 years in the not-for-profit sector as a specialist immigration caseworker.