MPs have warned that the Home Office faces a “bigger scandal than Windrush” unless it puts an end to a hostile environment policy that actively identifies and deports migrants accused of cheating on an English language test.
A 2014 Panorama documentary highlighted rife cheating in two test centres on the test of English for international communication (Toeic). In some instances, invigilators told test-takers the answers. In others, invigilators allowed proxy test takers in, despite knowing they were not who they claimed to be.
Over 90 per cent of foreign students who took the test in 96 centres between 2011 and 2014 were accused of cheating, and in response to the scandal, the Home Office designed a policy which led to 35,000 students facing revoked visas, detention and deportation.
Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, is one of many MPs who have criticised the high number of accusations.
“I think it’s nonsense. There is no way that 90 per cent of those who sat the test were cheating. Do they really believe they were presiding over a system in which over 90 per cent were cheating? It doesn’t make sense. It’s completely implausible,” said Timms.
Impact Of Hostile Environment Policy Means Victims Are ‘Living In The Shadows’
Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Credit: Parliament
A number of them haven’t dared to tell their family at home they have been accused of cheating because the shame is so great.
Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham
Being accused of cheating on the Toeic carries a heavy sentence, as students are prevented from carrying on with their studies, are unable to work and can find it difficult to continue studies in a different country.
Many students, who were carrying out PhDs or studying subjects such as English literature, law or medicine insist that they did not cheat, nor would they have to, and have stayed in the UK to appeal the decision.
But being unable to work has pushed many migrants to rely on financial aid from family, but many feel shame and now live in destitution.
“A number of them haven’t dared to tell their family at home they have been accused of cheating because the shame is so great,” added Timms.
“They are all in the most terrible situation. A lot of the victims are living in the shadows and are ashamed to talk about it. It is surprising there hasn’t been more uproar.”
Over 4,000 students who stayed to appeal the ruling have since been deported and over 3,600 reported that they are being continually targeted by immigration enforcement officers.
According to the charity Migrant Voice, the Home Office failed to present any evidence in most of the cases and if they did present something, it was “totally flawed”.
“In this country, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty – but for these students, that principle was thrown out of the window,” said Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice.
Just Like Windrush
The Home Office faced scandal in 2018 after it was revealed that the Windrush generation – children of Caribbean parents who came to live in the UK between 1948 and 1971 – were being detained and deported for not having citizenship, despite never knowing a home outside of the UK.
Mike Gapes is an MP for Ilford South, where many members of the Windrush generation live. He has described the student scandal as “bigger” than Windrush “in terms of the number of individuals removed from the country and whose livelihoods are being destroyed by anguish and despair”.
The home secretary has the power to put some of it right and give these students their futures back.
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice
Ramadan added that it was a “textbook example of bad decision making” that led to thousands of students being deported.
The scandal is set to come to a head this week when Home Secretary Sajid Javid makes a decision on the fate of the thousands of students who are hoping to return to their studies.
“He has the power to put some of it right and give these students their futures back,” said Ramadan.
“The Home Secretary has listened to the points raised by MPs and other groups and has asked for further advice from the department,” the Home Office said in a statement.