English lingo for Australian Immigration

Earlier this year, the Australian government announced changes to the 457 visa which included changes to the standard of English 457 visa applicants need to possess.   What are those standards? How do standards required vary from visa to visa? What can you do to prove your grasp of the English language?

Most Australian visas require applicants to have a certain standard of the English language, especially Australia’s skilled visas. The standard of English you need will depend on the type of visa you’re applying for.  Some visas ask applicants to have “competent”, “vocational”, functional” or “proficient” English. The usual way of proving your English language capabilities is by sitting an English language test an achieving the qualifying score.

There are exemptions from sitting an English test. For example, you don’t need to sit an English test if you are a holder of a passport issued by the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand or the Republic of Ireland.

You can also be exempt from sitting an English test if you have attended English-speaking educational institutions. For example, you can demonstrate you have “functional” English if all of your primary school education was delivered in English.

The Australian government uses the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) as a measuring stick. The IELTS test assess your abilities in speaking, reading, listening and writing English.

As well as IELTS, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection accepts four other English language tests:

  • Occupational English Test (OET)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test (TOEFL IBT)
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic Test
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test

The score you need to achieve will depend on the visa you are applying for. For example, if you apply for a 457 visa, you will need to show you have “vocational” English by scoring a minimum of 5 points in each of the speaking, reading, listening and writing tests set by IELTs (this was one of the changes made to the 457 visas in March this year). In contrast, if you are applying for a points-tested visa like a 189 visa, you will need to demonstrate you have “proficient” English by scoring a minimum of 7 points in each of IELTs’ speaking, reading, listening and writing tests.


DIBP Approved English Language Test Providers and Scores

English Language
proficiency level
Test component IELTS TOEFL
Cambridge English:
Advanced (CAE)*
Functional Average/total/overall across test components only 4.5 32 30 147 n/a
Vocational Listening 5.0 4 36 154 B
Reading 5.0 4 36 154 B
Writing 5.0 14 36 154 B
Spea​king 5.0 14 36 154 B
Competent Listening 6.0 12 50 169 B
Reading 6.0 13 50 169 B
Writing 6.0 21 50 169 B
Speaking 6.0 18 50 169 B
(for points tested Skilled visas)
Listening 7.0 24 65 185 B
Reading 7.0 24 65 185 B
Writing 7.0 27 65 185 B
Speaking 7.0 23 65 185 B
(for points tested Skilled visas)
Listening 8.0 28 79 200 A
Reading 8.0 29 79 200 A
Writing 8.0 30 79 200 A
Speaking 8.0 26 79 200 A

*From 1 January 2015 and only for a Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test taken on or after 1 January 2015.


For some occupations, like electricians or architects, you need to be licensed or registered by an Australian professional body before you can practice. In these cases, its common for applicants to show they have a very good understanding of the English language as part of their skills assessment. Passing your skills assessment will satisfy the English requirement for the visa application.

Other professions are so specialized that they require visa applicants to show they have a good grasp of “academic” English; doctors and surgeons are typical of this.

Another aspect of the English tests to consider is the date you received your test score. For a number of visas, like the 457, 186 and the 187, your English test score can be up to 3 years old when you submit your visa application. However, for other visas, your test score must be no more than 12 months old at the time of submitting your visa application.

You can learn more about the requirements needed for Australia’s skilled visas by contacting Australian Business Migration Group’s registered migration agent.