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Chinese overseas

Chinese students among thousands ‘falsely accused’ of cheating UK language tests, then ordered to leave

British MP Stephen Timms: ‘The whole thing strikes me as completely scandalous. They say their lives have been ruined’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:55am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 9:40pm

Sajid Javid, the UK home secretary, is being urged to review the treatment of thousands of foreign students who were ordered to leave the UK after being falsely accused of cheating in English language tests set for visa purposes.

According to one immigration lawyer as many as 4,000 university students may have been falsely accused by the UK Home Office of faking their tests in what has been described as another example of the government’s “hostile environment” immigration policy.

Due to the Home Office move, visas were cancelled, and students were barred from their courses and told to return to their home countries. 

Doubts, first highlighted in a Financial Times report, have now been cast on the quality of some of the evidence upon which these accusations were made.

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The students’ ordeal began in 2014 when a BBC Panorama investigation made allegations of cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), which students must take to meet visa requirements for spoken language proficiency.

Theresa May, home secretary at the time, asked the US-based Educational Testing Services, which ran the system, to analyse voice files to check whether students had used a proxy for language tests. It found that 33,725 results were “invalid” – in other words for involving use of a proxy – and 22,694 more were “questionable”. 

They’ve paid the money, they’ve lost their visa halfway through a course and they’re absolutely stuck
Stephen Timms, Labour MP 

The Home Office then revoked almost 40,000 visas.

Patrick Lewis, an immigration lawyer, said tribunal hearings had since found that between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the allegations were suspect and that innocent individuals had been caught up in what was undoubtedly widespread fraud.

The impact had been enormous. “I have clients who were in their last term of study who were then told simply they had to leave on that very day the accusations were made. They had to leave and they would not be able to complete their course.”

The students were told they could appeal once they had left the UK and gone home, but, according to Lewis, in most countries, including China, Bangladesh and India, there was no mechanism for any such appeal.

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Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, who has been contacted by a number of those affected in his constituency, has called on Javid to give the issue careful consideration.

Timms said: “It is very clearly an aspect of the hostile environment. The whole thing strikes me as completely scandalous. They say their lives have been ruined by this. Their families invested quite often their life savings to provide a decent British education at a good university for their child.

“They’ve paid the money, they’ve lost their visa halfway through a course and they’re absolutely stuck. A lot of them feel they can’t go back to India or Bangladesh because of the shame attached to this. They’ve been accused of cheating by the British government.”

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A Home Office statement defended the department’s earlier actions. “In February 2014 investigations into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating, which was indicative of large-scale, organised fraud. The government took immediate robust action on this, which has been measured and proportionate, and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents universities, said the cases largely related to students at private colleges, and called for a fair and proportionate system for investigating immigration issues. “Home Office research shows that levels of visa abuse involving university students is very low and universities take their compliance responsibilities seriously. Action should be taken only against individual students or institutions if there is clear and compelling evidence of abuse of the student visa system.”