By 121 Immigration Lawyers.
In 2014, a BBC Panorama documentary conducted an undercover operation on Fraud in the UK Student Visa process. The documentary uncovered clear cases of cheating at two test centers, where visa applicants sat the “Test of English for International Communication” (TOEIC). The two test centers in London were shown, for a fee, to be helping students cheat in the test by providing answers or having individuals other than visa applicant take the test on their behalf.
After been shown the documentary, the Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May said she was shocked and promised to take action. A US Company, Educational Testing Services (ETS), who administered the tests for the home office were asked to check the exams taken between 2011 and 2014 for cheating. ETS checked recordings of all 58,458 tests taken in 96 test centers in the UK between and stated that after doing voice analysis on all the tests, 33,725 had cheated, 22,694 had “questionable results”, and only 2,000 were OK.
ETS analysis was understood by the Home office to suggest systematic cheating across all the centers across the country, even though it didn’t seem practically possible for almost 90% of people to have cheated on a government controlled visa test. The Home Office, under Theresa May, cancelled the visa of over 36,000 foreign students, who were all tarnished by the same cheating brush and were told to leave the country immediately, approximately 1000 were forcibly deported, and almost 3400 left of their own accord.
The remaining 29,000 plus have been “living” for the last five years in a status that can only be termed as “a purgatory immigration status”,as they can’t work, study or even access healthcare. This has led to many destitute students suffering serious mental health issues including severe depression with suicidal tendencies.
Adding to the heavy-handed nature of this punishment is that all those accused of cheating were not even allowed to appeal in-country and access to legal aid was removed. Few had the financial means to afford legal representation to contest these allegations, but in certain landmark cases it was shown that the evidence provided by the Home Office was circumstantial at best and prejudiced at worst.
In December 2017 the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) that students who has there visa revoked because of the TOEIC cheating accusation would be allowed to appeal in-country. Most of the cases were that brought to court were ruled provisionally in the student’s favor and the government was told to pay for the costs of legal action. Almost 300 cases are pending in the court of appeal as hundreds try to clear their tarnished names and have their visas reinstated so they can finish their studies.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has been making preliminary inquiries into the government’s handling of the issue since the beginning of this year, and has now announced that it will proceed with a formal investigation. The body is expected to report its findings in late May or June.
What is really needed, more than an investigation is a solution and according to Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, who has been campaigning for the last five years against this travesty of justice says;
Those people wrongly accused cannot get the last five years of their life back. But they can have a future. We have been asking the government for three things:
- Let the students sit a new Secure English language test.
- Clear the names of those who pass and remove the criminal allegations against them.
- Give them back the status they lost and grant them enough time to complete their studies
Published 4th April 2019