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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

English Language Tests


Applicants for student, skilled and some permanent visas are required to have their English language proficiency tested. Testing is carried out by the Department of Home Affairs under the Migration Act 1958 and is regulated by the Migration Regulations 1994.

Evidence of proficiency

Regulation 5.17 states the prescribed evidence of English language proficiency is evidence that:

  • the person holds an award (a degree, higher degree, diploma or trade certificate) that required at least 2 years of full-time study or training, and all instruction was conducted in English;
  • the person has been assessed as having functional English by an approved provider of an English course;
  • the person has shown the department via an interview that they have functional English, in circumstances where evidence cannot be provided in person, and it is not reasonably practicable for the person to be tested by an English course provider.

The test must have been conducted in the 3 years immediately before the visa application.

For some visas, partners or dependents of the applicant will also need to show evidence of English language proficiency.

A person who holds a passport from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand or the Republic of Ireland is automatically deemed to be competent in English and is not subject to an English test.

Approved English language tests

There are five English language tests for visa purposes approved by the department:

International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic or General Training)

Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT)

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)

Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)

Occupational English Test (OET)

Levels of proficiency

There are 5 levels of English language proficiency under the regulations: functional, vocational, competent, proficient or superior English. Each level has a requisite score in testing, which has reading, writing, listening and speaking components.

Functional

Evidence for this level can include having English proficiency assessed as functional  by an Adult Migrant English Program service provider, or at least 5 years of study in our outside of Australia where all instruction was in English, or achieving minimum total score in one of the approved English language tests.

Vocational

This level requires achievement of a slightly higher minimum total score in one of the approved English language tests than the functional level.

Competent

This level requires achievement of a slightly higher minimum total score in one of the approved English language tests than the vocational level. This level is required for visa subclasses 186 to 190, which include sponsored visas, as well as for visa subclasses 489, 491 and 494, which are skilled regional visas.

Proficient

This level requires achievement of a slightly higher minimum total score in one of the approved English language tests than the competent level.  This is the minimum level required by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency for registration in fields such as dentistry, optometry and pharmacy.

Superior

This level requires achievement of a slightly higher minimum total score in one of the approved English language tests than the proficient level.

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