The process of applying for a UK visa or settlement requires patience and preparation, and in many cases, a sound knowledge of the English language. This is only for some visa types, and for permanent settlement applications, the UK’s Home Office requires applicants to prove they meet a certain level of English language proficiency. Thousands of prospective migrants hoping to come to the UK take an official test in order to prove their knowledge of English. To facilitate this, there are over 500 test centres dotted around the world, operated by five approved test providers. Applicants who are already in the UK may also need to take a test at an approved testing centre when applying for an extension to their existing visa, or for settlement after several years in the country.
Any UK migrant who needs to satisfy the English language test firstly needs to check the level which they must meet, which is where the CEFR levels apply. In this article, we will be focussing on just one of these levels – CEFR level B1. We will discuss which immigration application types this is required for and the proficiency required in order to pass a test at level B1.
CEFR stands for ‘Common European Framework’ and is used as a way of harmonising how languages are taught and tested. Without the CEFR framework, the way in which languages are covered in educational syllabuses, textbooks, and exams would be inconsistent. CEFR is not just for the English language; it is now available in 40 languages. According to their official website, CEFR “provides a common basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses, curriculum guidelines, examinations, textbooks, etc. across Europe. It describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set. The Framework also defines levels of proficiency which allow learners’ progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis”.
CEFR also defines different levels of proficiency. These levels range from A to C, with A being for basic users, B for independent users, and C for proficient users. Within each, there are two further levels, 1 and 2. This makes a total of six levels which span from the most basic to the most proficient. Each level lists what CEFR calls ‘can-do’ descriptors; in other words, what an individual should be able to do at each level. These are broken down by understanding (listening and reading), speaking (interaction and production), and writing.
The CEFR common reference levels description for level B1 states that as an independent user, individuals “Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.” This is further broken down into the following can-do descriptors for English level B1:
I can understand the main points of
clear standard speech on familiar
matters regularly encountered in work,
school, leisure, etc. I can understand
the main point of many radio or TV
programmes on current affairs or
topics of personal or professional
interest when the delivery is
relatively slow and clear.
I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.
Speaking (spoken interaction)
I can deal with most situations likely
to arise whilst travelling in an area
where the language is spoken. I can
enter unprepared into conversation on
topics that are familiar, of personal
interest or pertinent to everyday life
(e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and
Speaking (spoken production)
I can connect phrases in a simple way
in order to describe experiences and
events, my dreams, hopes and
ambitions. I can briefly give reasons
and explanations for opinions and
plans. I can narrate a story or relate the
plot of a book or film and describe my
I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.
The CEFR levels required tend to depend on the purpose of the visa. For example, a person applying for a standard Tier 2 work visa would be required to speak English to level B1, but a minister of religion applying under Tier 2 needs to meet level B2, whereas a Tier 2 sportsperson only needs A2.
CEFR level B1 applies to the following visa types:
Applicants will need to provide a CEFR level B1 test certificate for reading, writing, speaking and listening.
It should be remembered that not everyone needs to undertake an English language test. If you are under 18 or over 65, you have a degree or higher taught or researched in English, or if you are from Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, or Trinidad and Tobago, you will be exempted. If you are unsure whether you need to undertake an English language test, or if you have any other questions relating to this requirement, speak to immigration Solicitors. We wish you the best of luck with your CEFR level B1 study and test, and your immigration application.
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