UK English language requirements for highly skilled migrants

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19 February 2008

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The United Kingdom will begin introducing a new points based immigration system at the end of February for those wishing to work, study, or train in the UK. In addition to points scored for such factors as age, education, previous earnings, and ability to support oneself, English language ability will play an important role.

According to documents about the upcoming Tier 1 system released by the Border and Immigration Agency, applicants will have to prove one of three requirements in the General Highly Skilled Migrants (GHSM) and the Entrepreneur sub-categories:

For migrants applying under Tier 1 as Investors or for Post-Study work, the English language requirement is waived.

The following is a basic description of the three paths to satisfying the English language requirements under Tier 1 for General Highly Skilled Migrants (which will replace the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) and Entrepreneurs.

The Common European Framework for Language Learning

The CEFR, implemented by the Council of Europe, is designed to describe the language proficiency of an individual for any language used in Europe. The system is split into three main categories, each with two sub-categories:

A: Basic User
A1 - Breakthrough
A2 - Waystage
B: Independent User
B1 - Threshold
B2 - Vantage
C: Proficient User
C1 - Effective Operational Proficiency
C2 - Mastery

C1, the level needed to qualify for Tier 1's English language requirement, is described as being able to read and understand a wide variety of lengthy texts, having the ability to express oneself fluently and spontaneously without the need to search for words and expressions, having the ability to write well, and using the language with skill in professional, social, and academic situations.

Under the current Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 6 is required for passing the English language requirement. According to British Council conversion tables, those who have taken or plan to take an examination under the IELTS must attain at least an overall band score of 6.5 to successfully map to a C1 under the CEFR. This means that the new Tier 1 rules are a bit more stringent in regards to English language proficiency.

Citizens of a majority English-speaking country

Applicants under Tier 1 for the GHSM and Entrepreneur sub-categories can also claim English language proficiency if they are citizens of a majority English-speaking country. The following countries are considered majority English-speaking countries by the UK Border and Immigration Agency:

Degrees taught in English

Applicants under Tier 1 for the GHSM and Entrepreneur sub-categories can also satisfy the English language requirement if they attained a degree that was taught in English from a list of countries below. This is verified by using National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) data.

This list of countries includes:

NARIC is the United Kingdom's "official source of accurate research and intelligence on foreign academic/vocational qualifications" and provide nationally recognized equivalency documents for qualifications from overseas.

For a fee, NARIC will provide a "letter of comparibility" which states what qualifications an individual has earned overseas equate to in the UK. Because this document proves qualifications earned overseas in relation to the normal criteria of the points test, most potential highly skilled migrants will need to get a letter of comparibility anyway.


The points test for general criteria is not expected to change much, with the exception of the removal of the MBA provision. However, with increased fees on the horizon and more stringent English language requirements, some poeple may wish to apply for the current Highly Skilled Migrant Programme now. When renewing a visa under Tier 1, current highly skilled migrants already in the UK under an existing HSMP visa or Tier 1 visa will have the English language requirement waived.