English language tests will be required for non-EU migrants applying to come to the UK to join or marry their settled partner, the UK government announced yesterday.
From autumn 2010, they will need to demonstrate a basic command of English which allows them to cope with everyday life before they are granted a visa.
The new rules will apply to anyone applying as the husband, wife, civil partner, unmarried partner, same-sex partner, fiance(e) or prospective civil partner of a UK citizen or a person settled in this country. They will be compulsory for people applying from within the UK as well as visa applicants from overseas.
Home Secretary Theresa May said:
‘I believe being able to speak English should be a prerequisite for anyone who wants to settle here. The new English requirement for spouses will help promote integration, remove cultural barriers and protect public services.
‘It is a privilege to come to the UK, and that is why I am committed to raising the bar for migrants and ensuring that those who benefit from being in Britain contribute to our society.
‘This is only the first step. We are currently reviewing English language requirements across the visa system with a view to tightening the rules further in the future.
‘Today’s announcement is one of a wide range of measures the new government is taking to ensure that immigration is properly controlled for the benefit of the UK, alongside a limit on work visas and an effective system for regulating the students who come here.’
Anyone wishing to come to the UK as a partner will need to demonstrate basic English at A1 level, the same level required for skilled workers admitted under Tier 2 of the points-based system.
A partner coming to the UK from outside Europe will need to provide evidence with their visa application that they have passed an English language test with one of our approved test providers.
Under the current rules, people applying for visas as partners must already meet a range of criteria before being allowed to enter the UK. All applicants must show that their marriage or partnership is genuine, and that they can support themselves financially.
Whether they have married in the UK or overseas (or not at all), the non-UK partner must apply for a two-year settlement visa to come and live in the UK as a husband, wife, civil partner, unmarried partner or same-sex partner. At the end of the two years, they can apply to us for permission to settle in the UK (known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or ‘ILR’).
Partners who apply for settlement after completing their two-year period of temporary residence will still need to meet the ‘knowledge of language and life in the UK’ test. This is in addition to the new basic English language requirement, which forms part of their initial application. Source UK Border Agency
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said the “new language test ‘will tear married couples apart”.
The JCWI relates the story of newlywed Sophie Brown from Britain, who described how the latest Home Office rules demanding English language tests before a marriage visa will be issued could prevent her being reunited with her husband.
Sophie, 23, travelled to Togo in 2006 to teach English where she fell in love with Noel, 25, and accepted his marriage proposal. She speaks to Noel in fluent French and was looking forward to him moving to the UK to be with her.
However, the latest government announcement that husbands and wives moving to the UK have to speak English before they arrive could seriously delay their reunion – especially as her husband can barely afford the current fees and charges for a visa.
Sophie came back to the UK to complete her studies – but Noel has even been refused permission to visit for a holiday because the Home Office suspects he may overstay. The couple were assuming he would be granted a marriage visa.
Sophie said: “I am a British citizen and have lived in this country all my life. I met my husband, who is Togolese, when I was on holiday in 2006 and we were married in Togo last year.
“I am 23 years old and due to start my first job next month after finishing my studies. My husband and I believed that this would put us in a position where he would finally be able to come and join me here. Now it looks like this will not be possible, and I do not know when I will see my husband again.
“My husband and I speak to each other in French, though we are both keen that he should learn English. We – obviously wrongly – assumed that the best place for him to do this would be here in the UK.
“English tuition is poor to non-existent in Togo, particularly in rural areas, such as my husband’s place of residence. And I should know – I have worked as a volunteer EFL teacher there.
“The standards in Togolese schools are appalling – but is that my fault or my husband’s fault? Is it our fault that his parents could not afford for him to complete his secondary education?
“We are a young couple. It is difficult enough for us to afford the visa application fees. We cannot afford to pay for my husband to attend expensive English language classes away from his home.”
She added: “This is my country and I have lived here all my life. What have my husband and I done to deserve to be treated in this way?”
Hina Majid, policy director of the JCWI, said:
“Forcing husbands and wives to take language tests before they even arrive in the UK will rip families apart.
“These new rules are likely to hit people from South Asia and Africa where English is not the main language. It may also hit women harder and discriminate most against the poorest.
“These new rules are likely to be challenged in the courts under the Human Rights Act because they are discriminatory and may prevent families enjoying a life together.”
What do you think? Is this law fair?
What if a British person wanted to marry someone from Brasil, China or Thailand, but he or she failed the English test?