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Skilled Visas: IELTS and English Language Competency Requirements

Author: Alan Collett
Date: Sunday, October 16, 2011
 
It used to be on the periphery of visa strategy. Now it is dead centre and is for many the main hurdle to be cleared on the way to an Australian visa.

We’re talking about the IELTS test – the examination of English language competency that has been forced to the forefront of the migration process.

Though controversial to many – and intensely aggravating to those who come from English language speaking countries – the Australian Government sees the ability to converse in English as pivotal to the successful integration of migrants into the Australian community, to their ability to secure employment, and to ensure that Australians are not at risk from those who cannot communicate adequately. The last point is particularly relevant in the healthcare environment and in workplaces where health and safety risks are greater.

Visa Application Requirements – General Skilled Migration
For those who wish to migrate to Australia under the General Skilled Migration program, the Australian Department of Immigration requires that the main visa applicant must demonstrate that s/he meets the "English language threshold."

The English language threshold is at the competent English level which translates to a minimum score of 6.0 in each of the four components of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test system (or other language test and score, as specified by the Minister for Immigration).

The IELTS results must be from a test that has been sat no more than two years before the day the visa application is lodged with the Department of Immigration.

Applicants are considered to have met the English language standard of competent automatically if the applicant holds a valid passport from one of the following countries:

• United Kingdom (UK)
• Canada
• New Zealand
• United States of America (USA)
• Republic of Ireland.

However, being assessed as having competent English language skills is not the end of the story – certain skills assessing bodies require higher English language skills from offshore applicants, and many applicants for an offshore general skilled visa will require assessment of English language competency at a higher level if they are to secure additional points to meet the general skilled visa points test.

Note: All general skilled visa applicants are required to have their qualifications and competencies positively assessed by a skills assessment body that is given the authority to assess the applicant’s nominated occupation. These bodies set their own thresholds for a positive assessment, including – sometimes, not always - English language competency.

Skills Assessments – IELTS Requirements
For the more commonly encountered skills assessing bodies the IELTS position is as follows:

* Australian Computer Society (IT occupations) – No additional English language competency requirement

* Australian Institute of Management – No additional English language competency requirement

* Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council – Academic IELTS test required. Nurses and midwives must achieve a score of 7.0 or more in Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking with an overall band score of 7.0 or more in the IELTS test.

* Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, Certified Practising Accountants of Australia, Institute of Public Accountants - Academic IELTS test required. A band score of at least 7.0 in each of the four components is required – Speaking, Reading, Listening and Writing.

* Engineers Australia - No additional English language competency requirement.

* Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) - Applicants may be exempt from providing an Academic IELTS test if they meet the following criterion: have completed at least one year full-time higher education level study for an initial teacher education qualification in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States of America. AITSL reserves the right to request an Academic IELTS test report if supporting evidence does not satisfy the English Language proficiency requirements.

* Trades Recognition Australia - No additional English language competency requirement

* VETASSESS (professional qualifications - ie non trade skills) – No additional English language competency requirement.

* VETASSESS (trade skills occupations) – No additional English language competency requirement

Skilled Migration – Points Test
As discussed here additional points are available towards the post-1 July 2011 skilled visa pass mark of 65 points if a higher level of English language competency can be established:

• 20 points are available if a band score of at least 8.0 is achieved by the main visa applicant in all 4 components of the IELTS test
• 10 points are available if a band score of at least 7.0 is achieved by the main visa applicant in all 4 components of the IELTS test

Our experience is that the majority of applicants for a general skills visa require additional points to meet the skilled visa points pass mark, and that this is best secured through confirmation of higher level English language competency.

State and Territory Government Sponsorship
Sponsorship is frequently sought from a State or Territory Government to facilitate an application for a general skilled visa. Applicants seeking such sponsorship can find that they are required to confirm a higher level of English language competency, and to submit the results of an IELTS test validating the same before sponsorship is forthcoming.

For example, South Australia’s list of wanted skilled occupations shown here identifies the English language competency required of applicants, which is higher than the skilled visa threshold requirement of 6.0 across all bands of the IELTS test, and which must be demonstrated through submission of the results of an IELTS test undertaken no more than 2 years before the application for SA State sponsorship is lodged – unless the applicant is a passport holder of one of the listed countries, and the IELTS requirement is less than 7.0.

The same principle applies to Victoria, which specifies English language competency requirements on its list of skilled occupations here.

Secondary Visa Applicants
Secondary applicants for an offshore general skilled visa aged 18 years or over who do not have functional English must pay a second instalment Visa Application Charge, which is more than A$4,000.

This payment entitles secondary applicants to English language tuition in Australia, and is intended to enable them to achieve functional English language ability.

Functional English is confirmed (and the second VAC is avoided) by satisfying one of the following requirements:

* Having an IELTS result of at least 4.5 in all 4 elements of the test. Importantly, the results must be from a test that was sat no more than 12 months before the visa application is lodged with the Department of Immigration.

• Having a degree, diploma or trade qualification requiring at least two years of full time study or training with all instruction conducted in English

• Having completed at least one year of full time study in Australia towards a degree or diploma qualification with all instruction conducted in English

• Having completed one of the following at an educational institution where all instruction was conducted in English:

=> Primary education and at least three years of secondary education, or
=> At least five years of secondary education.

Secondary visa applicants who hold a passport from one of the countries listed above are considered to have functional English without the need to submit additional documentation to validate their English language competency.

Commentary
Following the Australian Government’s demonstrated intention to make English language competency a core feature of the skilled migration program there are few skilled visa applications that do not require the main visa applicant to attain IELTS test band scores of at least 7.0, while many will need at least 8.0 in all test components to attain the skilled visa points pass mark.

Our experience is that the IELTS test should not be underestimated, even by those who have been educated, live, and work in an English speaking country.

As with examinations generally, those who have practiced in advance are more likely to secure the result they are seeking – a useful resource in this regard is here.

Go Matilda has many years of experience with Australian visa applications, and has helped thousands of families move to Australia under the skilled migration program. We progress our clients' visa applications quickly, and when possible are proactive in ensuring our clients achieve their wish to live in Australia.

Importantly, the Go Matilda team understands the interaction between visa strategy and English language competency requirements - we can quickly identify the IELTS requirements for individuals who would like to move to Australia.

If you are a skilled individual and are interested in moving to Australia please contact us for a free initial discussion.


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