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The Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK Requirements - Too Testing for Migrants?

The Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK Requirements - Too Testing for Migrants?

UK Immigration continues to be the focus of intense media attention and public interest.  If you reviewed the content of the UK’s major newspapers over the past few months, you would struggle to find any one day when UK Immigration doesn’t feature in some form of article or news story.
It is strange, therefore, that some recent important Immigration changes, implemented by the Home Office, have been given very little media attention.
From 28 October 2013, the Immigration Rules that apply to those looking to settle in the UK, or to become naturalised as British citizens have changed.  For some time now such applicants have been required to demonstrate their knowledge of language and life in the UK.
Previously this could be done by either:

  • Passing the Home Office’s computer-based “Life in the UK” test; or
  • Obtaining a speaking and listening qualification in English for Speakers of Other Languages (“ESOL”) at Entry levels 1, 2 or 3.  To do this the applicant would have had to study at an accredited institution using specific citizenship based teaching materials, and have demonstrated progression from one ESOL level to the next.

Since April 2011 most migrants who entered the UK on work routes had to meet this requirement through the former option, as opposed to the ESOL route.
Now, applicants will have to meet what is widely thought by experts to be a considerably higher threshold. They will have to:

  • Pass the “Life in the UK” test; and
  • Hold a B1 (intermediate) or higher level of English language speaking and listening qualification, on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR).

The following groups will continue to be considered to automatically meet the English language component of the requirement and will not have to show a formal speaking and listening qualification:

  • Nationals of majority English speaking countries; and
  • Those who have obtained a degree taught in English.

Both of these groups will, however, be required to pass the Life in the UK test to demonstrate their knowledge of life in the UK.

The Home Office has commented that these changes are aimed at strengthening the citizenship process, and preventing abuse and exploitation of the application process.  Critics, however, say that the Home Office’s reason for “raising the bar” is simply to reduce net migration by substantially reducing the number of applicants likely to pass the tests.   
Regardless of your personal views on the merits of the social, economic and political reasons for these changes, it is clear that there will be consequences for migrant workers that intend to apply for settlement or naturalisation, and for their employers.
For some migrant workers, the new requirements will not present any difficulties at all.  However, for others, for example some of those working in highly complex and technical jobs which do not require much communication in the English language, the new requirements could create a major barrier to their settlement or naturalisation in the UK.
If you are an employer of a valued migrant worker who intends to apply, it would be advisable to consider what you can do to help prepare them to pass the new, more rigorous, application process.
It is important to note that these changes do not affect the English language requirements which apply to applications for leave to enter or further limited leave to remain.

Nick McLuskey

Burness admin