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Home Office under investigation after 1,000 suddenly deported over English test cheating claims

Watchdog says government’s decision to cancel visas of tens of thousands of foreign students and remove more than 1,000 people from UK after cheating allegations have come under ‘renewed public and parliamentary scrutiny’ in wake of Windrush

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 23 May 2019 18:09 BST
Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

The Home Office is to be investigated over its decision to cancel the visas of tens of thousands of foreign students and remove more than 1,000 people from the country as a result of cheating allegations in English language tests.

Almost 34,000 international students and skilled migrant workers were accused of cheating in an English language test in 2015, and with no proper right to challenge the decision, told their studies had been terminated and that they had no right to stay in the UK.

They were targeted after an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama in 2014 exposed systematic cheating at some colleges where candidates sat the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), one of several that overseas students can sit to prove their English language proficiency, a visa requirement.

Some were detained by immigration officials, lost their jobs, and were left homeless as a result, despite being in the UK legally. Others remained and worked desperately to clear their names, knowing that going home with such a slur hanging over them would have destroyed their reputations and barred them from jobs.

The Independent revealed in February that some students were still being detained and were living in “terror” despite not being involved in the scandal.

Now, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said it is looking at the information held by the Home Office on the number of people alleged to have cheated and the action the Home Office has taken to date.

The watchdog said the decisions had come under “renewed public and parliamentary scrutiny” in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

On Friday, Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, said the treatment of the students had been “a disgrace”, telling the BBC: “They trusted Britain to provide them with a decent education. Instead, they’ve been falsely accused of cheating and been given no chance to appeal. They’ve been left in limbo for years.”

One of those affected, Arjun Das, who came to Britain from Bangladesh in 2010 to complete a degree in accounting, was accused of cheating in the test and subsequently detained for 21 days in an immigration removal centre.

“I came here as a student, but I am being treated as a criminal. I did not cheat in this test, but I have had to pay thousands of pounds in legal fees to try to fight my case. It is ruining our life,” he told The Independent last year.

“Being in detention was terrible. My wife was trying to do her studies and it caused her so much stress that she had a stroke. I felt suicidal. I was being treated like I wasn’t human.”

Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, a charity that has supported affected students and will work with the NAO on the investigation, said: ”This is an important step on the road to justice for thousands of innocent students.

“Stripped of the right to work, study or even access healthcare, many of the students are destitute and suffering from severe mental health problems.

“The criminal allegation against them means that they cannot continue their studies, get a good job or obtain a visa to travel anywhere in the world. They have lost their futures.

“The Home Office’s handling of this issue has been spectacularly unfair and opaque, and it’s high time the truth was brought to light. We look forward to working with the NAO to achieve that.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been supporting the NAO in its work on this investigation since the start of the year. We will consider the findings of the report once it is published.”

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