Thousands of foreigners who want to marry a British person will have to pass an English test before being allowed to enter the country.

The new rule will come into force in the autumn and will mean that non-EU migrants seeking a visa to marry will need to be able to understand English at the level of a child of 5 or 6. Skilled workers, who already have to be able to speak and listen to English at that level, may have to meet a higher standard.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said: “I believe that being able to speak English should be a prerequisite for anyone who wants to settle here. The new requirement for spouses will help promote integration, remove cultural barriers and protect public services.”

The Government also indicated that the new tests for those seeking a spousal visa would be made more difficult in years to come.

The English language test will apply to about 38,000 spouses, civil partners and fiancés a year, including many from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan who come for arranged marriages. Officials believe that the number of spousal visas will fall by 6,000 a year.

There has been growing concern in Whitehall that some of those arriving from the Indian sub-continent have no knowledge of English and as a result are vulnerable to exploitation and cannot get jobs.

The new test will apply to spouses or civil partners, fiances or proposed civil partners, unmarried partners or same sex partners of a UK citizen or permanent resident.

Testing will be provided overseas at centres accredited by the UK Border Agency. The Home Office said that it thought migrants would need to undertake between 40 and 50 hours tuition to meet the required standard. Applicants will be able to repeat the test until they pass.