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IELTS for the UK

IELTS Life Skills

On 20 February 2015, the UK government announced important changes to Secure English Language Tests (SELT) for visa purposes. If you make a visa application to stay or move to the UK, you need to be aware of changes made by United Kingdom Visas & Immigration (UKVI). In addition to the IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic tests, which you may already know of, new tests called IELTS Life Skills and IELTS tests for UK Visas and Immigration (IELTS for UKVI) is now introduced.

IELTS scores open doors to education and employment in the UK. You can be sure that an IELTS score demonstrates your true ability to communicate in English across all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. This test of real-life communication skills gives you a reliable and valid indicator of your English language abilities.

Which IELTS test do I need if I am applying for a UK visa?

If you are applying for a UK visa in the UK, there is an IELTS test for you. For visa applications to the UK, you may need to have an English language qualification. In particular, for many categories of visa, you must submit an English language qualification which is included on the UK Home Office’s list of Secure English Language Tests (often referred to as SELT tests). IELTS and IELTS Life Skills are on this list. To find out whether you need to take an approved SELT test, what level you need to achieve, and which test you can use, you should check the list of approved tests and providers: from 18 August 2015.

Can I use any IELTS test result for a UK visa application?

If you wish to use an IELTS test result as part of your application to UKVI – apart from some types of student visa – you may need to take an IELTS for UKVI or IELTS Life Skills test. Both the UKVI and Life Skills tests must be taken at an IELTS test location specifically authorised by UKVI, and must be taken under specified conditions. You will receive an IELTS or IELTS Life Skills Test Report Form to show that your test met these requirements.

How often is an IELTS or IELTS Life Skills test available?

For IELTS and IELTS Life Skills, test dates will be available within 28 days of booking your test.

How often can I re-take IELTS or IELTS Life Skills?

There are no restrictions on retaking IELTS. You can register for a test as soon as you feel you are ready to do so. Candidates who have previously taken the IELTS Life Skills test and have passed are not allowed to re-take the test at the same level within two years, e.g. a candidate who has taken an IELTS Life Skills A1 test and has passed cannot take another Life Skills A1 test within two years. Similarly a candidate who has taken an IELTS Life Skills B1 test and has passed cannot take another Life Skills B1 test within two years.

How is my IELTS test different if I take it for UK visa purposes?

The IELTS test for UK visa purposes is designed to meet certain administrative requirements that are only specified by UK Visas and Immigration. Test Report Forms will be slightly different, to show that test takers have taken the test at an IELTS UK visa session. The actual test taken is the same – same content, examiners, format, level of difficulty, scoring and so on.

If I take an IELTS test for UK visa purposes, can I use my result in other countries / for other purposes?

Yes. IELTS test results are accepted by more than 9,000 organisations worldwide, including universities, colleges, governments and employers.

I’ve already taken IELTS, can I still use my result to apply to UK Visas and Immigration?

If you take IELTS on or before 5 April 2015 you should be able to use it for your application up to 5 November 2015, but you must confirm this with UKVI. From 6 April 2015 you must take the test at an IELTS test centre authorised to run IELTS tests for UK Visa and Immigration purposes.

The United Kingdom Visas and Immigration is using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to refer to language proficiency levels in the Points-Based System (PBS). PBS allows migrants to apply to work or study in the UK via one of five 'tiers'. If applying under Tier 1 or 2, migrants are required to provide proof of English language ability. IELTS is an approved English language test which can provide this proof.

Visa description CEFR level required Skills IELTS test and score required
Tier 1
General visa
C1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 7.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 1
Exceptional Talent visa
B1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 1
Entrepreneur visa
B1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 1
Graduate Entrepreneur visa
B1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 2
General visa
B1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 2
Sportsperson visa
A1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 2
Minister of Religion visa
B2 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 5.5 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 4
General student visa –
below degree level
only when required
B1 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 4.0 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Tier 4
General student visa –
degree level and above
only when required
B2 Reading, Writing,
Speaking and Listening
IELTS – 5.5 overall, and
for each of the four skills
Family of a settled
person visa
A1 Speaking and Listening IELTS Life Skills at
A1 – Pass
Indefinite leave to remain
(to settle) or citizenship
B1 Speaking and Listening IELTS Life Skills at
B1 – Pass

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a framework, published by the Council of Europe in 2001, which describes language learners’ ability in terms of speaking, reading, listening and writing. Different learners have different levels of language ability, but opinions about your English level can be subjective. Your friends may think your English is good but an employer might think it is not good enough and you may be better in some skills than others, for example you may be able to read better then you can speak. We need a clear objective way to describe language skills that everyone can agree on. This is what the CEFR provides.

The CEFR breaks down language learning into six levels, ranging from A1 (beginner) to C2 (advanced). Starting point A1, describes a very basic language level, as a learner you can move up the levels until you reach proficiency C2 level, this is a really advanced level. By describing what you can do in Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening the CEFR will tell you where you are on the journey from beginner A1, through to proficiency C2. There are many Cambridge English Exams available for different ages and stages of learning, all match to the CEFR levels, from young learners through to university and a work place or simply for travel.

Understanding your language level will help you to achieve your goal, whether is going on holyday abroad, study in the school of university or getting a job, and that's why CEFR levels are useful for everyone. You can use the calculator below to see what CEFR level you have based on your IELTS test results.

  • =
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  • C2: Mastery (Proficient user)

Note: The mapping of the IELTS scale to the Common European Framework above is derived from the interrelationship between IELTS and the Cambridge English Language Assessment Main Suite qualifications and the mapping of these latter qualifications to the CEFR. Further information on this can be found at www.cambridgeesol.org/what-we-do/research/cefr/index.html

Work Visas - Points-Based System


The UK immigration points-based system is the process used to manage applications by individuals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland wishing to work, train or study in the UK. Within the points-based system, there are different education and employment routes available to foreign nationals:

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
This subcategory is for highly skilled migrants who want to set up or take over, and be actively involved in the running of, a business in the UK. There are three ways that you can score 10 points for English language:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Pass an approved English language test (e.g., IELTS) with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • Hold an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
A visa for highly-skilled economic migrants who have won international recognition in scientific or cultural fields, or who show exceptional promise. There is NO English language requirements for initial application under this subcategory.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa is intended for recent graduates that want to set up a business in the UK. There are three ways that you can score 10 points for English language:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Pass an approved English language test (e.g., IELTS) with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • Hold an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree

Tier 1 (Investor)
The Investor subcategory is for those who wish to invest £2,000,000 in the United Kingdom. Like the Exceptional Talent type, there is NO English language requirements for initial application under this subcategory.

Tier 2 (General)
Since the Tier 1 Post Study Work (PSW) visa route closed in April 2012, Tier 2 General is the best option for most students hoping to work in the UK after their studies. Tier 2 of the points based immigration system in the UK is for skilled migrants with a job offer. To be able to apply for Tier 2, you need 70 points and a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from an employer who holds a Tier 2 sponsor licence. There are three ways that you can score 10 points for English language:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Pass an approved English language test (e.g., IELTS) with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • Hold an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree

Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer)
A Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer Visa (ICT) allows a candidate to transfer to the UK from an overseas branch of a UK company in order to undertake work on a specific project. The Intra Company Transfer category places strong emphasis on the employer being able to demonstrate that the salary for the role is appropriate and that no UK resident worker can fill the position. There is NO English language requirements for initial application under this subcategory.

Tier 2 (Minister of Religion)
You can apply for a Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa if you’ve been offered a job within a faith community (e.g. as a minister of religion, missionary, or member of a religious order) in the UK. There are three ways that you can score 10 points for English language:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Pass an approved English language test (e.g., IELTS) with at least CEFR level B2 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • Hold an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree

Tier 2 (Sportsperson)
The Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa is for elite sportspeople and coaches whose employment will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK. Applicants must be internationally established at the highest level of their particular sport. There are three ways that you can score 10 points for English language:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Pass an approved English language test (e.g., IELTS) with at least CEFR level A1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening
  • Hold an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree

Study in the UK


To qualify for a Tier 4 Visa to study in the UK, you must take a Secure English Language Test (e.g. IELTS) which is recognised by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Normally, if you meet any one of the following conditions you are not required to submit proof of proficiency in English:

  • Come from a country where the main language spoken is English
  • Have an academic qualification that was taught in a majority English speaking country and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree
  • Have successfully completed a course as a Tier 4 (Child) student that was at least 6 months long, and that finished less than 2 years before you got your confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • Are considered by your sponsor to be a ‘gifted student’.

If you do not meet any of the above-listed conditions, you must provide results of an English language proficiency examination as part of your application. The level of English you need (in reading, writing, speaking and listening) depends on the course you’re studying:

Note: Many universities will require a HIGHER LEVEL of English than the UKBA minimum requirements. The level of English required will be listed with the courses available when applications are open to students.

Exceptions


You won’t need to prove your knowledge of English if you’re a national of one of the following countries:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, USA


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