It has been claimed that thousands of overseas students who were caught up in an English-language test cheating scandal five years ago have been left in limbo due to Home Office failures. Campaigners for the affected students have revealed how many have been left unable to demonstrate their innocence, complete their studies and have in some cases had their visas revoked with the result being that they are now facing deportation.
On February 6th a parliamentary motion was tabled by the Labour MP Stephen Timms urging the government to permit those who have been accused of cheating and are still in the UK to re-sit a “secure test” and to reinstate their visa status if they pass. It is hoped that doing so would enable those students to complete their studies and allow them to clear their names. The motion also called on the government to halt the detention and removal of the students. The motion gathered the support of dozens of MPs in the following 24 hours.
The claims of cheating were raised in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2014 which investigated English-language tests required as part of the student visa application process for those wishing to study in the UK. Panorama discovered widespread fraud in tests run by a US-based company, Educational Testing Services (ETS), at two of its test centres in England. Students had used ‘proxies’ to pass oral English-language tests, it was alleged.
In response, the Home Office wrote to over 35,000 international students – the majority from India and Bangladesh – accusing them of cheating in their English-language test. While it has been accepted that some cheating did occur, it has been suggested that thousands of innocent students who took their tests at or around the same time have been wrongly accused.
In the period since, thousands of students have been removed from the UK in what has been described by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) as “one of the largest actions ever taken against foreign students in the UK”. It has emerged that some students may have been wrongly deported, while others who have been accused of cheating remain stranded in the UK with no access to their passports as immigration authorities review their cases.
At a previous parliamentary hearing in 2016, it was revealed that ETS’s analysis of its own practices showed widespread cheating at its test centres. The company stated that, of the 50,870 tests taken between 2011 and 2014, “over 30,000 definitely cheated and over 20,000 probably cheated”. Mr Timms called ETS’s claims “dubious”.
He said: “If they [ETS] are right, this probably means that hardly anybody who took this test did not cheat. I find that completely unbelievable.” He added that many students “are stuck here with a very shaky and uncertain future. A lot of them invested their families’ life savings in all of this with absolutely nothing to show for it.”
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, a charity campaigning on behalf of affected students, said: “It’s an outrage that thousands of students are still suffering, five years after the first wrongful allegations.”
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