UK Government Confirms New Requirements for Secure English Language Testing for Visa & Immigration Purposes

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If you want to study abroad in the United Kingdom, you will need to prove that you speak and understand English at a sufficient level.

A Secure English Language Test (SELT) is considered by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) authorities as proof of student applicant’s English proficiency. The difference between a SELT and other types of language tests is that a Secure English Language Test is officially recognised and trusted by the British government.

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Who needs a SELT?

Students planning to study a course at the academic degree level (such as a foundation course, or pathway course) will need to take a SELT in order to receive the UK Student Visa.

A sufficient score on the SELT is considered a guarantee that incoming international students will be able to integrate into the community and be able to study in the UK. IELTS and Trinity College London are the few exam boards recognised by UKVI as SELT providers.

The SELT by IELTS is called the IELTS Life Skills or 'IELTS for UKVI'. The IELTS Life Skills test requires you to demonstrate your speaking and listening skills only at level A1 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). A pass/fail result will determine if you meet the necessary English language level.

Who doesn’t need a SELT?

Not everyone applying for the UK Study Visa (also known as the Tier 4 General Student Visa) needs to pass the SELT.

Here is a list of student categories that don’t need to take a SELT:

  • International students coming from inside the EU, EEA, or Switzerland who do not need a UK Study Visa.
  • Non-EU international students who have been admitted to study a higher degree (at Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD level).
  • Internationals coming to the UK just to learn English for a period of under 11 months.
  • Students under 18-years old, coming to the UK on a Tier 4 Child Student Visa.
  • Students who have studied for at least 6 months in the UK in the past 2 years.
  • Students coming from an English-speaking country outside the EU.

Not having to take a SELT does not mean you will not have to take any English language test to come and study in the UK. English language proficiency is a requirement for university admission, and universities will require other English test scores (such as IELTS Academic, TOEFL iBT, PTE Academic).

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Important note

On April 6, 2015, the UK government confirmed new requirements for secure English language testing for visa and immigration purposes. If you need to apply for a visa for degree level courses (e.g. Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD programmes) you do not need to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) to study at a Tier 4 Sponsor university.

These institutions can decide which exams to accept as proof of English language ability and you will therefore just need to meet their requirements. Most UK universities are Tier 4 Sponsors, so you should be able to use a result from an IELTS test taken at any IELTS test centre, as well as other tests such as:

  • TOEFL iBT
  • PTE Academic
  • C1 Advanced (formerly known as Cambridge English: Advanced)

If you are studying at a below degree level (e.g. a foundation or pathway course) and you need a visa, then you will need to take a SELT from IELTS, Trinity College London, or PTE. IELTS for UKVI is widely accepted by UK universities.

If you are from the European Union, European Economic Area (EEA), and Switzerland you do not need to apply for a visa and therefore just need to meet the English language requirements set by your chosen institution for your chosen level of study.

Keep in mind that 2020 (and the first half of 2021) was the last year when EU and EEA students enjoyed the "local" status and benefited from lower tuition, government loans, and a lack of visa requirements. From 1 August 2021, things will change.

Learn more about tuition fees in the UK after Brexit. For visa info, visit the the official website of the UK Government.

PTE Academic and PTE Academic UKVI accepted as SELT

From June 2020 onwards, international students (and other citizens) who need a UK visa can also take one of Pearson's English Test to meet the visa requirements established by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

Different PTE tests and levels are required based on the type of visa you need. Still, international students need to pass either PTE Academic or PTE Academic UKVI:

  • study visa: PTE Academic or PTE Academic UKVI
  • work visa: PTE Academic UKVI or PTE Home A1
  • family visa: PTE Home A1 and A2
  • settlement visa: PTE Home B2

There is no difference in test content between PTE Academic and PTE Academic UKVI. Still, not all test centres offer both of them. If you do need to pass PTE Academic UKVI, make sure you book the exam at the right test centre.

Learn more about PTE Academic UKVI.

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