UK immigration change: Partners must pass English test before being granted a UK Visa

Migrants must now pass an English
test before they can join
their partners in the UK.

The UK Government has announced that compulsory English language tests will be introduced from autumn 2010 for non-EU migrants applying for a UK Visa to come to the UK to join or marry their settled partner.

The changes mean partners will need to demonstrate they have a basic command of English before leaving their homeland, around the level of a five- to seven-year-old, which will allow them to cope with everyday life in the UK. The new test will assess a person's ability to introduce themselves, ask simple directions, and understand what is said by someone speaking slowly.

While a seemingly uncontroversial UK immigration requirement for new migrants, it also seems an unnecessary law given that the UK already requires migrants to speak English. Partners who have completed the initial two-year period of temporary residence still need to pass the “Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK” test before obtaining permanent residence.

Additionally, the new law doesn’t apply to EU citizens – otherwise the most likely group of people affected. The Home Office has acknowledged the people most likely to be adversely affected are those coming from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh where English is not spoken in rural areas, or by poor or uneducated people.

I am sure there will be certain applicants who will struggle to pass the tests, which could mean long delays before they can join their partners here – if ever in some cases. Even for those who do pass, having to sit the test will mean an extra step and fee to pay, as well as the time and trouble involved.

The Home Office estimates the new law will lead to a drop of around 10 per cent in UK Visa applications, and unfortunately, this may be at the expense of genuine relationships.

What do the changes mean?


From autumn 2010, non-EU migrants wishing to join their partners in the UK as a partner will need to demonstrate basic English at A1 level, the same level required for skilled workers admitted under Tier 2 of the points-based system.

A partner will need to provide evidence with their UK Family Visa application that they have passed an English language test with one of UK Border Agency’s approved test providers.

The new rules will apply to anyone applying as the husband, wife, civil partner, unmarried partner, same-sex partner, fiance(e) or prospective civil partner of a UK citizen or a person settled in this country. The tests will be compulsory for people applying from within the UK as well as UK visa applicants from overseas.

Migrants applying for partner visas must also meet other requirements, including  being able to show a relationship is genuine,  and the ability to support themselves financially.

Partners who wish to apply to settle permanently in the UK after completing the initial two-year temporary residence will still need to pass  the “Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK” test .

- Marissa Murdock is Casework Department Manager for the UK Visa Bureau