The Home Office revoked the visas of tens of thousands of international students based on “confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe” evidence, a report has found.
A cross-party group of MPs has today (18 July 2019) released a report containing new evidence they say proves that the Government took rash and unnecessarily hostile action against international students accused of cheating on an English language test five years ago.
They argue that innocent students have been branded as cheats and in some cases deported amid an overzealous clampdown based on unreliable evidence.
But a Home Office spokesperson said that the report “does not reflect the findings of the courts” which deemed the evidence of fraud sufficient for authorities to take action.
The new report is the result of an inquiry involving legal experts and affected students, among others, who were questioned by the MPs.
It includes testimony from experts who say they met with Home Office officials in 2014, and who asked them if evidence against the students should be “shored up” to ensure it is robust enough to stand up in court. The Home Office denies this meeting ever happened.
Barrister Michael Biggs, who has worked on the cases of more than 100 students, told the inquiry that the Home Office “pioneered a process that made it as difficult” as possible for those accused of fraud to clear their names.
MPs also heard that students are being denied access to UK educational institutions despite winning their appeals. At least one university is reported to have refused a former student, wrongly of accused cheating, on the basis that to do so would be a threat to their licence.
Labour MP Stephen Timms writes: “The basis for denying visas to thousands of overseas students, often with catastrophic effects – quite simply could not be relied upon.
“The inquiry concluded that the evidence used against the students was confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe.”
What Exactly Happened in The English Test Scandal?
Image Credit: Unsplash.
A 2014 BBC Panorama investigation revealed clear evidence of fraud in at least two Educational Testing Service (ETS) centres while students took the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) as part of their visa-renewal process.
In response, the Home Office investigated college test centres and students, and began cancelling the visas of those considered to have cheated in the exam.
The ETS used voice recognition software to uncover suspected cheats and identified 97 percent of cases as “invalid” or “questionable”.
Students with results deemed “questionable” were allowed to resit, while those with an “invalid” result had their visas cancelled.
A report released by the National Audit Office in May states that this course of action “carried with it the possibility that a proportion of those affected might have been branded as cheats, lost their course fees, and been removed from the UK without being guilty of cheating or adequate opportunity to clear their names”.
What Does The Home Office Say?
A Home Office spokesperson told RightsInfo: “The report does not reflect the findings of the courts, who have consistently found that the evidence of fraud was enough for us to take action.
“As the National Audit Office recently highlighted, the Tier 4 system was subject to widespread abuse in 2014 and almost all those involved in the cheating were linked to private colleges which the Home Office already had significant concerns about.
“The National Audit Office was also clear on the scale and organised nature of the abuse, which is demonstrated by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions.”
Want to learn more on this topic?
- Take a look at our articles on immigration and human rights.
- Read the story of a high-achieving student, trafficked to the UK as a child, who now faces deportation.
- Read our explainer: the Immigration Act 2016 in plain English.