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English Language Requirement Exemption for UK Visas

For such a small country tucked away in the North Atlantic, it is fair to say England punches far above its weight when it comes to the global use of its language. The number of people speaking English as a second language is estimated to be nearly 900 million, making it the most spoken language worldwide; it is the true global ‘lingua franca’. Old English emerged from dialects introduced by Anglo-Saxon settlers from West Germany around 1,400 years ago and was later heavily influenced by the Old French language following the Norman conquest.

From the perspective of UK immigration, there remains an expectation that those coming to this country must have a strong grasp of the English language. In order to meet this requirement, visa applicants must satisfy a strict set of criteria, and these vary by visa type and category. For those who are required to take an English language test to prove their knowledge, the level of test required changes depending on the purpose of the visa. For example, for a family visa, a lower level A1 test must be passed for speaking and listening, but for a tier 2 work visa, an applicant must pass a B1 test for reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

But not all UK visa applicants are required to pass an English language test to prove their competence. Indeed, depending on your age, education, and country of birth, you may be able to completely swerve the process of meeting the English language requirement, saving time, money, and effort.

Related Article: Read more ‘How to Pass the English Language Requirement for UK Visa Applications’.

Who is Exempt from the English language Requirement When Applying for a UK visa?

If you are applying for a UK visa of any type with an English language requirement, you may be exempt from taking and passing a certified English test if any of the following apply:

  • You are aged 65 or over
  • Have a physical or mental condition which means you are exempt*
  • You have a degree taught or researched in English
  • You are a citizen of one of the following countries:
    • Antigua and Barbuda
    • Australia
    • The Bahamas
    • Barbados
    • Belize
    • Canada
    • Dominica
    • Grenada
    • Guyana
    • Jamaica
    • New Zealand
    • Ireland (for citizenship only)
    • St Kitts and Nevis
    • St Lucia
    • St Vincent and the Grenadines
    • Trinidad and Tobago

Application for a waiver based on a health condition

In order to satisfy the exemption for those with physical or mental health conditions, a ‘Waiver request for the knowledge of language and life in the UK requirement:medical opinion’ must be completed by a medical practitioner registered with the General Medical Council who is able to comment on the applicant’s specific condition/s.

Exemptions for Degree Taught or Researched in English

To satisfy this exemption, you will need to prove that you have a degree-level qualification taught in English. For those who attended a university in the UK, this process is relatively straightforward as the Home Office only requirea degree certificate as evidence. If your degree was taught in English outside of the UK, you will need to provide the Home Office with a copy of your degree certificate and an Academic Qualification Level Statement (AQUALS) from UK NARIC confirming that your degree is equivalent to a UK qualification.

UK NARIC is an official agency whose role it is to recognise and compare international qualifications and skills.

If you gained your degree in a country that is not majority English-speaking, then you will also need to ask UK NARIC to provide an ‘English Language Proficiency Statement’ (ELPS) which confirms that the course was delivered in English.

In the absence of an official degree certificate (i.e. if you have lost it and cannot acquire a replacement) the Home Office may also accept an official transcript containing your name, the name, and address of the university, the degree, and confirmation of the award. Failing this, they may also accept an official letter from your university which states that it cannot reissue your certificate and includes your name, degree, and the date the degree was or will be awarded.

English Language Exemptions If You Are Applying for ILR

If you are applying for settlement in the UK, also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain, you will not be required to fulfil the English language requirements if you are:

  • A victim of domestic violence as the partner or spouse of a British citizen or someone settled in the UK
  • The partner or spouse of a person who has died who was either a British citizen or someone settled in the UK
  • An adult-dependent relative between 18 and 64 of someone who is present and settled in the UK, is a refugee or has humanitarian protection
  • A refugee living in the UK
  • Someone living in the UK with discretionary leave
  • Someone living in the UK for humanitarian protection
  • Someone who has permission to stay in the UK as a retired person of independent means
  • A Commonwealth citizen on discharge from HM Forces, including Gurkhas
  • A highly skilled migrant applying under the terms of the highly skilled migrant program (HSMP) judicial review and your dependants
  • Someone in exceptional circumstances, for example as an orphan, widow or over-age dependant

Given the range of possible exemption scenarios, the Home Office clearly recognises that applying the English language requirement for the purposes of settlement in the UK is not always needed or appropriate.

In conclusion

There are several circumstances that may negate the need for you to sit and pass an English language test. This may come as welcome news to those who are exempt, especially given the considerable time and cost which may be saved by not having to learn and then attend exams. If you are unsure if you are exempt, it is advisable to speak to an immigration Solicitor before proceeding with your application.

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