What is the CEFR?
CEFR stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. We don’t know why they missed off the L, perhaps because C-E-F-R is already a lot to say, for an abbreviation.
The CEFR is a framework used to assess an individual’s ability in any language, standardised across the world.
So everyone is C2, the top level, in their first language, and then an equal or lower level in any additional languages they speak.
For example, I‚ Am C2 in English (my native language), and maybe a B1 in French on a good day. Someone whose first language is Italian, lives and works in Spain, and also knows a bit of German, might be C2 in Italian and Spanish and A1 in German. If they improved their German, they could move up through the levels.
It’s a useful and standardised way to assess ability across different languages, no matter what the individual’s first language or background is.
Why is it relevant?
The CEFR is relevant because it is recognised by the UK Home Office as the basis for meeting the various English language requirements which apply to different immigration applications. More on that below.
How does it work?
There are three broad levels: A, B and C. Each of these is then subdivided into levels 1 and 2, with 1 being lower and 2 being higher.
There’s a useful table here which sets out all six levels and what they mean. I also like this graphic, which is meant to show expanding knowledge of a language:
How does the UK Home Office use the CEFR?
Most visa and nationality applications carry an English language requirement. Usually, an applicant can meet this requirement by either having a qualification taught in the UK or in English, or by passing an English language test at the level specified by the application.
Any English language test must be taken with an approved provider, at an approved test centre. Details can be found here.
There are some exemptions. The most common of these is that you’ll be exempt from the English language requirement if you are from a majority English-speaking country. It’s worth checking this, because although the list includes the USA and Australia, South Africa is excluded.
If you need to take an English test, that’s the point at which the CEFR becomes important. You’ll need to take (and pass) your English test at the right level. The level you need depends on the type of immigration application you’re making.
Listed below are the levels required for some common UK immigration applications:
|Health and Care Worker*||B1|
|* if you’re a doctor, dentist, nurse or midwife, you don’t need to prove your knowledge of English if you’ve already passed an assessment accepted by the relevant professional body|
|Spouse visa – first application||A1|
|Spouse visa – second application (extension)||A2|
|Unmarried partner visa – first application||A1|
|Unmarried partner visa – second application (extension)||A2|
|Student visa||B2 for degree level, B1 for anything lower|
|Settlement and Citizenship|
|Status under the EU Settlement Scheme||N/A|
|Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)||B1|
|Citizenship (also known as naturalisation)||B1|
Some useful tips
- If you take a test at a higher level than you need, you may be able to use the same test certificate again for a later application. For example, if you’re just starting out on the partner visa route, but you know one day you’ll want to apply for ILR and citizenship, you might want to take the English test at B1 level. Then you can use the same certificate all the way through to citizenship, avoiding the time and expense of taking a test for each application.
- Some test providers also give you their own levels or grades. These are normally numbered (5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 6.5 etc). Although your employer or university might take these numbers into consideration, the Home Office isn’t interested. For immigration purposes, all that’s important is the CEFR level.
- If you’re taking an English test, it must be with an approved provider at an approved test centre. Be really careful here – any English course or test certificate not issued by an approved provider won’t be accepted and could result in your application being refused.