English Language Test Requirements for Spouse Visas

New English language requirement for partners

From 29 November 2010 the UK Border Agency has brought into force new English language requirements for married or marrying couples. Any migrant who wants to enter or extend their stay in the UK as the partner of a British citizen or a person settled here will need to show that they can speak and understand English. These new providions apply to also to those applicants seeking entry to the UK as a fiance or fiancee as well as to same sex couples.

Applicants will now need to meet the requirement if: 

  • they are a national of a country outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland; and
  • they are in a relationship with a British citizen or a person settled here; and
  • they want to apply to enter or remain in the UK as that person’s husband, wife, civil partner, fiance(e), proposed civil partner, unmarried partner or same-sex partner.


What will you need to do?

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country or do not have a degree taught in English (see below), you will need to pass an acceptable English language test with one of the approved test providers. Details of this test can be found in the UKBA list of acceptable tests and approved test providers (PDF 144KB opens is a new window)

In the test, you will need to demonstrate a basic command of English (speaking and listening) at level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference. This is a basic level, which is judged to require 40 to 50 hours’ tuition for most learners. Someone assessed at level A1 can understand and use simple, everyday expressions and very basic phrases. 

Applicants will not need to demonstrate your reading and writing skills. 

Evidence of achievement at this level must be produced to the British Embassy at the time of making an application to enter the UK as the dependant spouse of a person present and settled in the UK. 

The applicant will need to pay for the English language test. The cost of a test will vary according to the test provider and country where the test is being taken. 

The Home Office YouTube channel contains a video which outlines how applicants already in the UK can meet the requirement. Overseas applicants required to take a test will need to do so before they apply to come to the UK. 

What happens if I take a test at a higher level?

The minimum standard applicants will need to meet is in speaking and listening at level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference. 

The list of approved tests and providers includes some tests above A1 level. This is because the UK Border Agency will also accept tests in speaking and listening, or speaking and listening with additional skills such as reading or writing, taken at a higher level with an approved test provider. 

This is to give people as wide a choice as possible and to provide for those who have already taken a test at a higher level with one of the current approved test providers. It also allows for people who wish to take a higher-level test for work or study reasons. 

What is a majority English-speaking country?

If you are a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will meet the English language requirement automatically. You will not need to take a test. For this purpose, the UK Border Agency consider that the following countries are majority English-speaking countries: 

  • 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
  • the United States of America

Degrees taught in English

Applicants who have an academic qualification which is deemed by UK NARIC to meet the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s degree, can use that qualification as evidence that they can speak and understand English to level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference. These applicants will not need to take an additional test. For details, see the Statement of changes in Immigration Rules – October 2010 (Cm 7944)

The UK Border Agency will not accept Master’s degrees and PhDs as evidence, because UK NARIC can only assess whether Bachelor’s degrees (and not Master’s degrees or PhDs) were taught in English. 

This is different from the points-based system, where Master’s degrees and PHDs are currently accepted as evidence of English language skills. The UK Border Agency have indicated that they intend to align the English language requirement for the points-based system with the new requirement for partners, and they will amend the Immigration Rules in due course. 


Applicants will be exempt from meeting the English language requirement if they can provide satisfactory evidence that: 

  • they are aged 65 or over at the time when making their application; or
  • they have a physical or mental condition which would prevent you from meeting the requirement (evidence of this condition will be required); or
  • there are exceptional compassionate circumstances which would prevent you from meeting the requirement.

If you are concerned that these new rules affect you in any way, contact us on 020 8401 7352. We offer a free 30 minute telephone consultation and will be able to advise you as to your rights and entitlements and the steps that you need to take.

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