Concern raised over language tests for UK visa applicants

07 Aug 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

UK visa applicants could find themselves facing problems in the future over English language tests if their English is not up to par.

The government brought new rules into place at the end of July which increased the requirements for English language abilities. The change to the law was one of several designed to cut down on bogus visa applications.

Student visas are a particular focus for this campaign and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is expected to interview 14,000 of the 250,000 expected applicants applying for visas over the next 12 months to check for bogus applications.

However, it has now been noted that not all the staff who conduct the language tests are trained as language assessors. Mike Milanovic, chief executive of the producer of the UKBA's English language tests, Cambridge Esol, told the Guardian: "Speaking is possibly the most challenging skill to assess. Even when it is carried out by very experienced language teachers, you still need to provide them with specialist training and very detailed instructions.

"You also need an extensive quality management system to back this up. Otherwise, it's almost impossible to deliver a fair, reliable assessment."

The UKBA has been unable to clarify how the interviews will be conducted and what training officers will receive in order to assess people's ability. It is thought that the UKBA advised its staff to seek advice from the British Council offices regarding the matter but no confirmation could be obtained from the council that this had actually taken place, leaving some uncertainty regarding the value of the planned tests.

There have been further suggestions that conducting interviews is not the best way to deter fraudulent applications, especially if the government and the UK immigration authorities are unable to deliver suitably trained assessors. It remains to be seen what will happen once the tests are fully underway.