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What is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)?

What is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)?

Every year, thousands of migrants to the UK are required to prove that they meet the English language standard required by the Home Office. Not all UK immigration applicants have to prove they meet the requirement, including nationals of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Also exempt are those under 18 or over 65, people with degrees (or higher) taught or researched in English, and people with certain physical or cognitive conditions. When applying for settlement, applicants who are victims of domestic violence as the partner or spouse of a British citizen or someone settled in the UK, refugees, and people with discretionary leave are also exempt.

Those who are not exempt will need to provide evidence as part of their application that they meet the required standard, which is where the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) becomes relevant.

What is CEFR?

According to the CEFR website, the Common European Framework “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”.

The CEFR is in no way limited to the English language, rather it is available in 40 languages. From an immigration standpoint, by using the CEFR, the Home Office can be assured that when an applicant provides a certificate of proficiency, they meet the standard required. Part of the role of the CEFR is to ensure that individuals can be educated and tested to a set proficiency level.

What are the CEFR proficiency levels?

When enquiring about the eligibility requirements for your visa or for settlement, you will no doubt have seen reference to letters and numbers such as A1, B1, or C1. They will also specify whether the level must be met for reading, writing, speaking, and/or listening. The English language requirement for a Tier 2 work visa, for example, states that applicants must have passed “an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening”. You may not, however, understand what these letters and numbers mean; these are defined by the CEFR as follows:

  • Level A: Basic User
  • Level B: Independent User
  • Level C: Proficient User

Each of the levels is split into smaller levels:

  • Level A1: means the applicant can comprehend and utilise common everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Level A2: means the applicant is able to comprehend sentences and common expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment)
  • Level B1: This means the applicant 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
  • Level B2: means the applicant can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation
  • Level C1: means the applicant can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Level C2: This means the applicant can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments, and accounts in a coherent presentation.

For a more detailed understanding of the difference between each level, more details can be found on the CEFR website. As users pass from A1 to C2, they are progressing from basic and concrete use of English for speaking and listening only, to speaking, writing, reading, and understanding in a highly nuanced, flexible, and spontaneous manner.

Where can I find a test centre?

There are only four approved providers which operate testing centres both in the UK and internationally, namely:

  • LanguageCert
  • Trinity College London
  • IELTS SELT Consortium
  • Pearson

Each of these testing companies provides exams that meet the different CEFR levels.

The Home Office website provides a list of 55 secure English language test centres in the UK and 577 outside of the UK.

Which CEFR levels are required?

The Home Office webpage for the specific type of leave you are applying for will outline the CEFR level to be met. For example, applicants for a Tier 4 (General) student visa for a course below degree level must pass an English language proficiency test at level B1 in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Once students reach the degree level, however, they are expected to pass the B2 level test.

Applicants using the family visa route (i.e. for a Spouse/partner, or parent of a dependant) will initially need to prove they meet the A1 level for speaking and listening, but when they apply to extend their visa after 2.5 years in the UK, they are required to have increased their proficiency to level A2.

Applicants for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and citizenship must meet the B1 level for speaking and listening.

Final words

Before proceeding down the path of meeting the English language requirement, it is always recommended that you check if you are exempt from doing so. Many applicants are unaware that due to their age, qualifications, or their country of origin, they do not need to satisfy this requirement. Another important consideration is to ensure that when applying, you do not simply rely on a certificate of proficiency you have used in the past, as when applying to extend or for ILR, you may need to meet a higher level than you originally met. And at any point, if you are unsure if you do meet the English language requirements, it is recommended that you seek the advice and support of immigration Solicitors before submitting your application. Doing so may save you both money and time, and will provide greater certainty as to your situation.

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