IELTS may be the most feared five-letter acronym in the English language for an Australian visa applicant, after policy changes back in June 2012 dramatically increased the English-language requirements for permanent residency applicants of the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the most commonly-used language proficiency testing system in the world, with over 2 million tests taken in the last year. The test is comprised of four components; speaking, writing, reading and listening, providing what is widely considered to be the most comprehensive language testing system available.
However it’s not the comprehensiveness of the test that is the problem for Australian visa applicants. It’s the score they’re expected to achieve.
The Department’s decision to increase the English-language requirements to 6.0 out of 9 in each of the four categories of the IELTS has led to incredible frustration for trade occupation workers, who are now required to achieve the same score as what most Australian universities set as the standard for entrants to majority of their degrees.
Previously, an applicant that achieved an overall score of at least 4.5 was considered competent enough to be eligible for an RSMS visa.
But the required score is only part of the problem. Equally infuriating is the level of subjectivity involved in the marking of two of the test’s components – speaking and writing.
It’s a truth that Gurdev Singh, a client of Migration Solutions, knows only too well, having taken the test over 22 times at an accumulative cost of approximately $6,500.
Despite recording an overall score of 6.0 nine times on the test in addition to completing an intensive ELICOS English course and having lived in Australia since 2008, he is yet to pass the test by achieving the necessary marks in all four categories of a single test.
‘It’s really hard,’ he said.
‘One day my marks are great in one category and half a point under in another, and the next time I take the test it’s reversed. It’s incredibly frustrating.’
Unfortunately Mr Singh’s case is not unique, nor is the difficulty of the IELTS test a new problem. In 2010, Channel 7’s ‘Today Tonight’ program ran a similar story on a Sri Lankan commerce student who was also struggling to pass the test.
Mark Glazbrook, Managing Director of Migration Solutions, says that whilst he recognises employees need to have a functional level of English for Occupational Health and Safety reasons, a minimum of 6.0 in each category is excessive for the RSMS program, and many trade-based occupations.
‘The fact that a highly skilled and experienced chef, cook or baker can be denied permanent residency because they’re not able to obtain a 6.0 or higher in a category such as writing, a skill which they have very little professional use for, is disappointing,’ he said.
‘Our restaurant and catering industry and construction industry are both struggling to find skilled and experienced workers at the moment, and the current structure of this test is denying these industries of such workers.’
Mr Glazbrook is calling for a review of the system, suggesting that an occupation-based English requirement model be introduced in place of the current ‘one-size fits all’ version, or that repeat IELTS test-takers are able to combine their best scores from each category when being assessed by the DIBP.
‘The Occupational English Test (OET) allows multiple tests to be taken and the best scores to be combined.’ Why not have the same marking system available to IELTS takers?’
He also points out that the Department can’t have it both ways when it comes to English-language requirements.
‘The requirements for different visa types are very inconsistent. RSMS direct applicants are required to score 6.0 in each category, whereas transitional RSMS and ENS applicants only need 5.0 in all the four bands, and Working Holiday visa-holders have no English-language requirements whatsoever.
‘The inconsistency is definitely something that needs to be addressed.’