THE HOME OFFICE has said it feels “real concern” about the fate of international students who were wrongly accused of cheating in an English language test.
Sir Philip Rutnam, the department’s most senior civil servant, said on Wednesday (10) that home secretary Sajid Javid would make a statement about the issue before parliament’s summer recess.
“We recognise that there continues to be real concern that individuals may have been treated harshly in this whole process,” Rutnam said. “That there are some hundreds of individuals, possibly more, who feel that they may have been treated harshly, who continue to maintain their innocence. That is of course the subject of real concern to us.”
In 2014, a BBC programme uncovered organised cheating in two of the 90 government-approved centres offering the exam.
A total of 2,468 people were forcibly removed from the UK as a result of the scandal, and 4,157 people accused of cheating had been granted leave to remain, revealed a National Audit Office report released in May. Hundreds are still fighting legal battles to clear their names and they have spent tens of thousands of pounds attempting to get justice through the courts.
The report said due to the government’s course of action against the students, some have been “branded as cheats, lost their course fees, and been removed from the UK without being guilty of cheating or [being given] adequate opportunity to clear their names”.
The Commons public accounts committee is currently investigating the Home Office’s decision to accuse more than 30,000 international students of cheating.
Labour’s Shabana Mahmood, a member of the committee, said the scandal has damaged the UK’s reputation internationally.
“I regret anything that damages the UK’s reputation internationally. If there are innocent people caught up in the response to this, I would deeply regret that.”
Last month, hundreds of overseas students appealed to Javid to address the matter, stating they were unfairly accused of cheating in the tests.
In a letter to the home secretary, they said: “We are some of the tens of thousands of international students unjustly robbed of our visas and our rights by the Home Office in 2014 after we were accused of cheating on an English test. We are innocent but the government gave us no real way to defend ourselves, so we’ve been fighting for five years just to clear our names.
“The Department you lead ruined our lives and stole our futures. It branded us as frauds, forcing us to bear a lifelong mark of shame, while never presenting any evidence at all against most of us.”