THE Home Office has been accused of rushing to penalise international students of cheating in English language test without checking the reliability of evidence, parliament’s spending watchdog concluded in a report published on Wednesday (18).
Comparing the way the department treated the nearly 30,000 international students accused of cheating to the Windrush scandal, the report from MPs pointed out that the Home Office has “once again not done enough to identify the innocent and potentially vulnerable people who have been affected by the scandal.”
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), at least 11,356 people linked to a questionable Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) had left the UK by the end of March 2019. The Home Office has removed or denied re-entry to at least 2,859 people. There are many who continue to remain in the UK to protest their innocence.
The report said: “It is entirely unacceptable that, despite now recognising that hundreds of people still maintain their innocence, the Home Office has not acted to put right the wrongs caused by its actions.”
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant voice, a charity that has worked closely with students accused of cheating, said the Home Office’s approach has ruined dozens of lives.
“What we want is justice – you cannot criminalise someone and destroy their future without the evidence against them,” said Ramadan.
In February 2014, BBC’s Panorama investigation uncovered evidence of organised cheating in two English language test centres run on behalf of the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
This included providing English-speakers to take speaking tests instead of the real candidates and staff reading out multiple choice answers for other tests.
The UK Home Office responded vigorously, investigating colleges, test centres and students.
“When the Home Office acted vigorously to exclude individuals and shut down colleges involved in the English language test cheating scandal, we think they should have taken an equally vigorous approach to protecting those who did not cheat but who were still caught up in the process, however small a proportion they might be. This did not happen,” Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, was quoted as saying.
After the BBC expose, the Home Office began cancelling the visas of those it considered to have cheated in TOEIC, a compulsory requirement in some student visa cases, a majority of them from South Asian countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A Home Office spokesperson said that the 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing “revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud.”
“The scale of the abuse is shown by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions totalling over 70 years. The courts have consistently found that the evidence the Home Office had at the time was sufficient to take action,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.