In June 2010 – amongst its first policy statements – the UK’s coalition government announced that a new English language requirement was to be introduced for non-European visa applicants. This requirement will generally apply to non-Europeans who wish to enter the UK, or remain in the UK, as the partner of a UK resident or British citizen.
Why Partners of UK Residents Have to Speak English
The official rationale behind this requirement is to ensure better integration into British society by those who come to the UK to join their partner or spouse. Behind the new policy is the belief that a person cannot live a full life as a British resident if they cannot communicate in English. In the past, a lack of English language skills has led to some spouses becoming isolated and, potentially, vulnerable to exploitation. By having sufficient language skills to communicate with and understand others, foreign nationals who come to the UK to join their partners can have an autonomous existence from the outset rather than being overly reliant on their UK resident or British citizen partners.
In addition, this latest language requirement is amongst a number of new measures being implemented by the coalition government to control, and prevent abuse of, the UK’s immigration system. The Conservative Party – which constitutes the majority of the UK’s coalition government – made controlling immigration to the UK a central part of their election manifesto. It is anticipated that the numbers of non-EU immigrants coming to the UK will inevitably fall if further requirements and greater hurdles are introduced for visa applications of all types.
Some critics of the new requirement argue that it could breach an individual’s human rights and that it may be discriminatory. There are some who believe that the main impetus for implementing the new law was to control immigration rather than ensure better integration of foreign partners.
When Are the New Requirements Due to Come into Effect?
The new language skill requirements for the partners of UK residents are due to take effect on 29 November 2010. All applicants for a partner visa applying from that date onward will have to satisfy the new language requirements as part of the application process.
Under the new English language skill requirements non-European nationals applying to enter the UK to join their UK resident partners – or to remain in the UK as the partner of a UK resident – will have to prove that they have reached the required standard in the English language before doing so. This requirement applies to the spouse, civil partner or fiancé(e) of a UK resident as well as to unmarried partners. (The same language requirements will now also apply to the spouses or partners of British Citizens.)
The Standard of English Language Skills Required
Applicant partners must prove that they can both speak English and understand spoken English to a minimum prescribed level in order to qualify for a partner visa. As yet there is no requirement for these applicants to achieve a specified level in written English. The standard of English required is similar to that required by those applying as a skilled worker under the Points Based Immigration System.
Applicants who are nationals of a country which has English as the principal spoken language may be exempt from this requirement. Some critics believe that this makes the new rules discriminatory as they are applied differently to those from countries with or without English as an official language regardless of the individual applicant’s actual English language skills.
Proving that the Required Standard Has Been Reached
In August 2010 the British immigration authorities released a list of approved providers of English language courses for visa applicants. Applicants can take courses and tests through one of these approved providers to prove that they have the necessary English language skills to qualify for a partner visa. There are a wide range of tests which can be taken to satisfy the requirements. Approved test centres are located throughout the UK and all over the world. Proof that an approved test has been passed must be supplied together with the visa application.