cheating uk visa deported english language
The majority of students are unable to appeal. Source: Shutterstock.

Significant doubts have been raised about the legitimacy of the Home Secretary’s decision to deport 40,000 students from the UK in 2014 over accusations of cheating on English language exams for the purpose of obtaining a visa.

An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 students are believed to have had their visas revoked wrongly. The UK’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid is now being pushed by members of parliament and lawyers to review the situation.

An immigration lawyer told The Guardian the Home Office is likely to have falsely accused up to 4,000 students of faking their English language exams.

Labour MP Stephen Timms claimed it was a product of the Conservative government’s “hostile environment” surrounding its immigration policy.

The Home Office’s decision meant students were barred from their courses, had their visas revoked and were told they must return to their home countries immediately.

Immigration lawyer Patrick Lewis told The Guardian: “I have clients who were in their last term of study who were then told simply they had to leave on that very day the accusations were made. They had to leave, and they would not be able to complete their course.”

What caused this?

In early 2014, BBC documentary programme Panorama launched an investigation into cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), one of the English language tests required to obtain a study visa in the UK in which the first accusations were made.

The former Home Sectary Theresa May, who is now Prime Minister, then asked the Educational Testing Services in the US – which ran the TOEIC system – to analyse voice files to determine if students used a proxy to pass their language tests.

It discovered 33,725 files were “invalid” and 22,694 were “questionable”, causing the Home Office to retaliate by cancelling almost 40,000 visas.

Undeniably, as the Home Office said in a statement, this was the uncovering of “of large-scale, organised fraud”. However, significant doubts over the legitimacy of many the claims have recently arisen.

Lewis claimed tribunal hearings have now found between five and 10 percent of the students involved were innocent and laid victim to other students’ fraud.

Can students appeal?

The students were forced to leave the UK immediately, however they were told they would be able to appeal when they were back in their home country. But, Lewis reported, no such mechanism for appeal exists in the majority of countries involved, including China, India and Bangladesh, so students were left with nothing.

Timms is among the MPs urging the Home Sectary to review the scandal to bring justice to the students who had nothing to do with it yet lost their money, their degree and their pride.

It is “completely scandalous”, he said.

He added: “They say their lives have been ruined by this. Their families invested quite often their life savings to provide a decent British education at a good university for their child.

“They’ve paid the money, they’ve lost their visa halfway through a course and they’re absolutely stuck. A lot of them feel they can’t go back to India or Bangladesh because of the shame attached to this. They’ve been accused of cheating by the British government.”

The Home Office statement, however, defended its actions by claiming “the government took immediate robust action on this” adding that it was “measured and proportionate”.

A spokesperson for Universities UK claimed the majority of cases involved students enrolled in private colleges, defending the decision stating: “Home Office research shows that levels of visa abuse involving university students is very low and universities take their compliance responsibilities seriously.

“Action should be taken only against individual students or institutions if there is clear and compelling evidence of abuse of the student visa system.”

The Home Office claimed, to date, 21 people have received criminal convictions for their part in the fraud.

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