By denying students basic justice, the Government has brought shame on our country
Innocent students have been wrongly caught up in a scandal that wasn’t of their making, says Wes Streeting MP.
Today MPs will debate Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal. A scandal that has seen thousands of international students wrongly deported and tens of thousands more left in limbo by a Government that has effectively branded them all cheats, defied the principles of natural justice and created a hostile environment for international students.
In 2014, BBC’s Panorama uncovered evidence of widespread cheating at testing centres delivering the Test of English for International Communication – the so-called TOEIC – as part of the student visa process. Panorama discovered that exam invigilators in some colleges read the correct answers to students or supplied proxies to sit sections of the test. The provider administering the tests, Educational Testing Services (ETS), claimed that 33,725 people who took the test used a proxy and that it suspected a further 22,694 instances of fraud.
That abuse on such a scale could take place at a Home Office-approved provider was clearly a source of political embarrassment for the Government and the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May.
The 22,694 students whose test results were deemed questionable because ETS had ‘limited confidence’ in the validity of the results because of ‘administrative irregularity’ were permitted to sit a new Secure English Language Test.
But in the cases of those students whose test results were deemed invalid by ETS, the Home Office relied on the assurances of an untrustworthy provider to presume the guilt of thousands of international students without considering individual cases or giving those students an opportunity to defend their innocence. The macho response of the Home Office, a saving face exercise by Theresa May, was described by one immigration tribunal judge as “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.
Figures obtained by the House of Commons Library show by the end of September 2016, more than 35,870 visa-holders had their visas refused or curtailed on the basis of the TOEIC test; more than 3,600 of these had received an enforcement visit; and more than 4,600 had been removed. In the vast majority of cases, these students were told they had no right to appeal in the UK and that they should leave the country. Students were forced to take their fight for an appeal all the way to the Court of Appeal, which ruled in their favour.
In some cases, it appears the Home Office directed further and higher education institutions to withdraw students from their course of study and the students were told to find a new sponsoring institution within 60 days or leave the country. This approach was found to be unlawful by the Upper Tribunal.
Innocent students have been wrongly caught up in a scandal that wasn’t of their making. Patrick Lewis, an immigration barrister with Garden Court Chambers, told the Financial Times that “the highly questionable quality of the evidence upon which these accusations have been based and the lack of any effective judicial oversight have given rise to some of the greatest injustices that [he has] encountered in over 20 years of practice.”
Many students have experienced financial hardship and mental ill health. Huge amounts of public money has been wasted dragging them through tribunals and the courts.
By denying students basic justice, the Government has brought shame on our country, which is admired around the world for our commitment to the rule of law. By creating a hostile environment for international students, they put the global reputation of our universities at risk. Perhaps worst of all, by branding innocent students as cheats they are ruining the lives of people who came to our country, contributed tens of thousands of pounds in fees and living costs, and are left with a stain on their character, instead of the bright futures they’ve worked hard for.
It’s time for the Government to let these students sit their test again, clear their names and get on with their lives.
Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North
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