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English Language Requirements for UK visa applications

Article published (or last modified) on 18 June 2019

Many people who are applying for a UK visa will need to provide evidence that they understand the English Language to a required level. This includes people applying for Innovator, Tier 2, Tier 4, Family visas, Settlement and Citizenship as well as several other UK immigration routes.

To meet the English Language requirement, you usually have to pass a Home Office approved test with a Secure English Language Testing (SELT) provider.

These English Language tests have been designed to measure how skilled you are at speaking, listening, reading and writing in English.

English Language tests are graded based on their Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level.

What is a CEFR level?

The CEFR level is the way English Language tests are graded in terms of difficulty. They are the simplest way for the Home Office to make sure your English Language skill is high enough for your visa.

Please see the following image for our outline of CEFR levels, and the full up-to-date list of which level you need to meet for your visa application:

CEFR levels infographic, by White Rose Visas

English Language Tests for Student Visas

The English Language requirement works a bit differently if you are looking to apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student visa.

The level of English Language you will need to meet will depend on which Higher Education Institution (HEI) you will be attending. Each HEI has their own criteria.

For example, The University of Sheffield require students to achieve IELTS level 6 for undergraduates and 6.5 for postgraduates (IELTS level 6/6.5 is the same as CEFR B2/C1, which we will explain below).

However, some departments will require a higher score.

This is why it is important to check with the university and department you are hoping to attend to be sure that you are taking the right English Language test.

Where can I take an English Language Test for my UK Visa Application?

You are able to take an approved SELT test with either Trinity College London, or with IELTS SELT Consortium.

The full list of these approved locations can be found here.

TCL Logo, by Trinity College London

Trinity College London SELT tests are only available to applicants from within the UK. This means that if you are applying from outside of the UK, you must instead pass an IELTS test as explained in the section below.

There are ten different Trinity SELT centres across the UK where you can book a test. There are also several more organisations who provide preparation courses if you want to be doubly prepared for an exam.

Trinity offer UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) exams at CEFR levels A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1.

Trinity exams cost £150 if you are doing just a speaking and listening exam (known as GESE and suitable for CEFR A1, A2 and B1) or £180 if you are also doing reading and writing (known as ISE and suitable for CEFR B1, B2 and C1).

Make sure you know which exam you need to be taking before you book.

Once you know which exam you need to take, you can book your test with Trinity online through their website.

Trinity have a resources page for their SELT exams, which has been made for those who want to revise or prepare beforehand but don’t want to take one of their preparation courses.

There are also lots of revision materials and helpful information on their main SELT page. To find this, select the exam you will be taking from the purple sidebar on the left of the screen, then click the ‘teaching and learning support resources’ button.

You must remember to bring your ID with you to the exam. This can be your passport, EU ID card, BRP or a valid travel document.

Your test results will usually be sent to you within 21 days of taking the test. These results can then be used as evidence that you meet the requirement in your visa application.

IELTS logo, photo by IELTS

IELTS English Language tests are the only option for those applying for a visa from outside of the UK. However, if you are applying from within the UK you can also take an IELTS test if you choose to.

There are more than 110 permanent and 70 pop-up UKVI approved testing locations for IELTS exams, located in over 70 countries.

All British universities and colleges also accept the regular IELTS Academic test, meaning if you are applying for a Tier 4 student visa there are many more locations available to you.

Do be sure to double check the requirements of your institution before you book your test.

For some IELTS tests in certain locations there is also the option of taking the test on a computer.

IELTS CEFR match, created by IELTS

IELTS tests are slightly more complicated than Trinity tests when considering the required CEFR level.

IELTS offer Life Skills tests at levels A1, A2 or B1 which are suitable for some visa applications.

Otherwise, you will need to take an IELTS for UKVI (Academic and General Training) test.

In this test, you need to get a minimum score in order to meet your required CEFR level.

The image here shows which IELTS level meets which CEFR criteria.

For example, if you need to meet CEFR B1, you need to score a minimum of 4 in each category. If you need to meet CEFR C1, you need to score a minimum of 6.5 in each category.

If you are unsure of which IELTS score you need for your specific visa, please see our full CEFR list above or the table on this IELTS page.

Once you know which test you need to take, you can book your IELTS test online.

IELTS offer free online resources and a free 6-week online preparation course, as well as face-to-face preparation courses at several locations across the world. These can be found on this web-page.

There are also lots of other practice materials and sample questions online to help you prepare for your IELTS test. These can be found on the IELTS website both though this link and on this page.

The cost of an IELTS test will change depending on where you are looking to take the test. For tests taken within the UK the Life Skills test will cost £150, whilst the IELTS for UKVI test costs £200.

IELTS tests in other locations will usually cost similar amounts to this in the local currency, but can end up being approximately £20-50 more.

You must remember to take your ID with you to your test. You will be told when you book your test what form of ID to take with you.

Pile of dictionaries, photo by Angela Boothroyd on Flickr

Your photograph will be taken before the exam and in some countries your finger will be scanned.

This information will only be used on your results. Please see this page on the IELTS website for further test day advice.

If you’ve taken a paper-based test you will be able to preview your results online after 13 calendar days from the test date.

This is shortened to around 5-7 days for computer delivered tests.

A paper copy of your IELTS results will be sent to you after 13 calendar days (5-7 days for computer tests).

This is called the Test Report Form (TRF). You will then be able to show your TRF as evidence during your visa application, as long as you earned a result that is the same as or higher than the CEFR level of your visa requirements.

Exemptions from English Language Tests for UK Visas

There are some situations where you don’t have to pass an English Language test to meet the English Language requirement, or certain cases where the requirement itself does not apply.

Only those over the age of 18 and below the age of 65 will need to take a SELT. This means that children or anyone over the age of 65 don’t have to take a test to meet the requirement.

If an applicant has a degree (Bachelors, Masters or PhD) that was taught or researched in English, this will usually be sufficient to satisfy the English Language requirement.

This degree will need to be recognised by UKNARIC as equivalent to a UK degree and evidence must be provided from UKNARIC as part of the visa application.

If you are a national from one of the following predominantly English speaking countries, you will also be exempt from the requirement:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, USA.

If you are applying to settle in the UK there are also further potential exemptions to the requirement found on the following guidance page.

There are also some UKVI applications which don’t have an English Language requirement, such as Tier 1 Investor and Visitor visas.

If you require additional information regarding meeting the English Language requirement, please get in touch with us here at White Rose Visas and we will be able to advise you appropriately based on your personal circumstances.

Natalie Pashley profile, photo by White Rose Visas

Natalie Pashley, Senior Immigration Adviser at White Rose Visas, comments:

“Figuring out which English Language test you should take can be stressful, especially with the way IELTS matches their scores with the required CEFR level, and the amount of different English Language tests that can be found online. It can make finding the right test confusing when it should be simple. We always work to ensure our clients know clearly which test they should take, meaning that their time is spent preparing for a test, rather than worrying whether or not it’s the right one for their application.”

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