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Sponsoring Skilled Workers and the English Language Requirement

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There is an assumption that everyone speaks English as it is the ‘international language’ but that isn’t always the case. It is also assumed that all UK employers need their employees to be able to speak English but again that isn’t always true.

Ask a restaurant owner recruiting a chef if English language or culinary skills are the priority and you will get a resounding answer. Likewise, in the hard pressed tech sector, a worker’s tech skills are more likely to be prized above their linguistic abilities. However, many skilled workers need to meet the English language requirement as part of their UK immigration application process, so our immigration solicitors take at sponsoring skilled workers and the English language requirement.

Contact our team of London Sponsorship Licence lawyers today on 0203 959 9123 to find out how we can help your business with its sponsor licence and work visa questions.

The English language requirement

It isn’t sufficient for a UK employer to decide that an overseas job applicant meets their recruitment criteria. The job applicant may also need to pass an English language test. Whilst the English language requirement may be understandable in some professions, such as medical or teaching roles, HR directors and recruiters sometimes struggle with the emphasis on the English language requirement when trying to fill roles in the UK because of the severity of the recruitment crisis in some sectors of the UK economy.

If you want to sponsor a skilled worker visa applicant then the recruit either needs to sit and pass the English language test or provide evidence that they do not need to sit the test under the immigration rules.

The immigration rules on the English language requirement are now contained in Appendix English language.

The CEFR scale

Sponsoring employers assume that the English language test is straightforward – a job applicant passes or they don’t. However, Sponsorship Licence lawyers say the English language requirement isn’t as clear cut as employers might hope or expect.

Depending on the nature of the visa application, the English language test eligibility criteria are different. The level of English language skill required is referenced to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. Under the CEFR scale, English language is tested at its most basic level (A2) to the highest level (C2).

The skilled worker visa English language requirement

To meet the eligibility criteria for a skilled worker visa, Sponsorship Licence lawyers say applicants have to pass an English language test to grade B1 or above – so somewhere in the middle of the CEFR scale range.  An applicant is exempt from sitting the test if they can show that they fall within an exception and can evidence it.

What is a SELT?

In immigration law abbreviations abound. A SELT is a ‘secure English language test’. Whilst there are many online providers offering English language tests the Home Office will only accept an approved SELT.

Which skilled worker visa applicants don’t need a SELT?  

 Your skilled worker visa applicant does not need to sit an English language test if:

  • They are a national of a majority English speaking country. The job applicant and employer can't decide whether the country where the applicant comes from is ‘majority English speaking’. The Home Office holds a list of designated countries
  • They have an academic degree that was taught or researched in English
  • They have a GCSE, or A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, or Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English that was obtained through study at a UK school that the applicant attended when they were under the age of 18
  • The applicant is a dentist, doctor, midwife, nurse, or vet and they have already passed an English Language test required by their professional body
  • They have previously passed a SELT to a minimum of B1 level

SELTs and dependant visa applications

Many skilled worker visa applicants want to bring family members with them on dependant visas but are concerned that their family won't pass an English language test. The immigration rules say the English language test doesn’t apply to dependant visa applications where the main visa applicant is applying for a skilled worker visa.

Sponsorship Licence lawyers say it pays for employers and work visa holders to plan ahead as if the skilled worker and their family want to apply for indefinite leave to remain, all the family applicants for ILR will need to pass the English language test unless they fall within an exception, such as the age related exception.

Given the current UK skills shortage, some UK employers are doing all they can to help skilled workers and their families meet the indefinite leave to remain eligibility criteria. For example, helping dependant family members access English language courses.

Is the English language test a barrier to employing skilled workers?

Most UK employers tell Sponsorship Licence lawyers that they don’t see the Home Office required English language test as a barrier to recruitment from overseas although they do express concern that the SELT may put off potential applicants who fear they may not pass the test or who prefer to work in a country where they are welcomed without having to prove their language skills.

For UK sponsor licence holders, the English language test appears anecdotally to be more of an irritation to UK businesses than a barrier. An irritation because it is another piece of paperwork that is needed before the skilled worker visa applicant can successfully secure their visa to enable them to start work in the UK. Many employers are of the view that their recruitment process is a sufficient test to see whether a candidate has the particular skills to do the job, including communication skills.

Sponsorship Licence lawyers say it looks like the English language test is here to stay for the time being so it is one of those things that HR staff need to add to the checklist when recruiting skilled worker visa applicants.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence Lawyers

For advice on sponsor licences and immigration law call the Sponsorship Licence lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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