Today new English language requirements come into force for non- EEA spouses and partners of British or settled citizens or who are applying for leave to enter or remain in the UK.
In a nutshell those applying for entry clearance/leave to remain as a spouse, civil partner, fiancé(e), proposed civil partner, unmarried or same sex partner will have to provide a test certificate from an approved English language provider showing that they have passed a test which meets or exceeds level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference. Failure to do so will mean that their application will fall for refusal.
Regrettably these requirements will also now apply to former refugees who are British or settled, and cannot return to their home countries.
Previous applications that have not been decided as of 29 November will be dealt with under the previous rules.
Exemptions from the requirement
There are a few exemptions from the testing requirements. These are for:
- Those aged 65 or over at the time of making their application
- Those with physical or mental conditions that the Secretary of State agrees would prevent them from meeting the requirement;
- Those who are able to show exceptional or compassionate circumstances
- Those from specified majority English speaking countries
- Those providing evidence of academic qualifications as verified by NARIC which meet the recognised standard of a bachelor’s degree (though not a Masters or PhD)
- Those applicants from countries with no test centre in cases where the application is made there
The previous equality impact assessment by UKBA estimated that the application of these tests could be expected to result in a 10 % reduction in applications of this kind.
Given of course also that opportunities to learn English are not distributed evenly throughout the world – half of which happens to live on less than $2 per day, and given that some 60 % of the spouse based migration consists of women, and that these flows are drawn heavily from South Asia, one can expect the tests to have particularly acute impact for these groups in general.
Why we think this is a bad idea
Whilst we agree that speaking English according to one’s needs is a positive and potentially empowering thing, we have consistently opposed these measures.
For a start, aside from the above the measures raise clear legal issues and will inevitably be challenged on HRA grounds, and on the basis of the statutory equality duties.
They’re also likely to be ineffective both in engendering integration and enhancing linguistic skills. Indeed as the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults have pointed out England really is the best place to teach migrants English.
In any event it is of course of course already the case that these migrants are required to satisfy language and cultural tests some 24 months or so after arrival when they apply to settle in the UK.
An alternative approach to improving English language skills
The position has hitherto been that partners/spouses have not been able to access ESOL at home fees until during the first year of residence in the UK. With a 90 hour course costing in the region of £1000, and visa fees of £750.00, plus settlement fees of £900 (plus £250 for each dependant child) an outlay of some £3000 is likely to have acted as a deterrent.
Providing free access to classes or even classes at home fees rates within the first year of arrival for the above groups would no doubt have done much to improve linguistic skills. Importantly it would also have avoided the unedifying spectre of indefinite division of families.
You can contact your MP and send a quick e mail to voice your concern about these measures, whilst also asking them to support the Early Day Motion Against these Rules by clicking and following the steps outlined here . There is a detailed joint briefing we did against these rules here.
If you are refused on grounds that you do not satisfy these requirements you should immediately seek legal advice from a solicitor/advisor. The above is intended as a summary only.