Home Office’s treatment of international students to be investigated in formal inquiry

Announcement comes just a day after NUS presents Home Office with evidence justifying why an 'urgent' inquiry is needed

Home Secretary Theresa May, pictured, has come under fire for the way her department handled an investigation into a cheating scam at one London school
Home Secretary Theresa May, pictured, has come under fire for the way her department handled an investigation into a cheating scam at one London school

A formal inquiry is to open into the Home Office’s treatment of international students after Home Secretary Theresa May wrongly deported almost 50,000 students in the wake of the TOEIC English exam scam.

The announcement has been made after the Home Affairs Committee convened to interview Home Office representatives and scrutinise the way in which the ministerial department handled its own investigation into the scam, which was brought to light after an undercover BBC Panorama report.

Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, told the Home Office’s representatives he expected an inquiry would “have better answers than you have provided today.”

Mr Vaz added that they were talking about “innocent people whose whole reputations have been destroyed because the Home Office keeps saying they took their tests illegally and fraudulently and with deception.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) welcomed the decision just a day after it presented the Home Office with a document of evidence justifying why an inquiry had to take place.

Mrs May had come under fire after the cheating was exposed in February 2014 at one East London school which was then used to incriminate all overseas students who had sat the test.

NUS international students’ officer, Mostafa Rajaai, described a formal inquiry as “a huge step” and said the NUS was “thrilled” that its concerns over the “awful” treatment of international students were shared by the Home Affairs Committee, adding: “We believe this needs to be resolved urgently.”

He continued: “Thousands of students have had their lives disrupted, lost their life savings, and were then removed from the UK without the degrees they gave up their time and money for.

“The time has now come for the Home Office to explain its actions. These students will never get back the years of their lives they wasted but they still deserve answers about why they were treated so unfairly.

“However, this is not the end of the story and we hope this inquiry opens the door for closer examination of the other ways international students have been mistreated, and immigration policies as a whole.”

The Independent has contacted the Home Office for comment in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement and has yet to receive a response.

However, in a statement on Monday, a spokesperson said: “Educational institutions that benefit from the immigration system must ensure they have robust compliance systems in place or risk losing their privilege to sponsor students and workers.

“Since 2010, we have cracked down on immigration abuse from poor quality institutions which were damaging the UK’s reputation as a provider of world-class education, whilst maintaining a highly competitive offer for international students who wish to study at our world-leading institutions.

“The latest figures show this strategy is working: visa applications from international students to study at British universities are up by 17 per cent since 2010, whilst visa applications to our elite Russell Group universities up by 39 per cent.

“We will continue to reform the student visa system to tackle abuse and deliver an effective immigration system that works in the national interest.”

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