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Speaking for Ourselves

MPs question Immigration Minister over delayed announcement on foreign students injustice

MPs question Immigration Minister over delayed announcement on foreign students injustice

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 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - MPs question Immigration Minister over delayed announcement on foreign students injustice

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday 30 April, the Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes announced a further delay to the Home Office announcement regarding the thousands of students wrongly accused of cheating on an English test in 2014. She was speaking in response to an Urgent Question from Stephen Timms MP, a long-time advocate for the students.

The Immigration Minister said that any announcement would now be delayed until after the National Audit Office releases its report on this issue, which is expected in May/June.

This comes more than five years after the first allegations of cheating. More than 35,000 visas were revoked or refused on the basis of the allegations, but many of those students were innocent.

They’ve spent the last five years in limbo, stripped of their rights and fighting a desperate battle to clear their names of a black mark that will otherwise follow them for the rest of their lives. Many are destitute and suffering severe mental health problems. Many have contemplated or attempted suicide. We have been campaigning alongside the students since 2017, and working with many MPs including Stephen Timms MP to lobby the government and work towards justice.

Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice:

“We are disappointed that the Home Secretary has chosen to avoid addressing the issue that has left thousands of innocent students in desperate limbo for five years, deciding instead to send Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes to face today’s question.

“The Home Secretary has said he is sympathetic to this issue – and four weeks ago he stood up in the House of Commons and said he had made final decisions. The students whose lives were destroyed by his department are still waiting to hear what their futures will be.

“We welcome the investigation by the National Audit Office and look forward to their conclusions but this is a poor excuse for the Home Office to delay their announcement. The Home Secretary holds the futures of thousands of students in his hands, and they cannot wait any longer.

“They have already faced five years of Home Office errors and delays. Stripped of their rights, many are destitute and suffering severe mental health problems. Many have contemplated or attempted suicide.

“They live every day in growing despair. The way the Home Office has treated these students makes a mockery of the British justice system, but the Home Secretary does have the power to put it right. We urge him: Listen to the students, make the right decision, and do not delay your announcement any longer."

 

What did MPs say during today's debate?

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Stephen Timms MP called on the Home Secretary to allow those remaining in the UK to sit a new test, describing their “desperate hardship”.

“They depend on kindly friends, but cannot endure the shame of going home with nothing,” he said. “Understandably, mental health problems are rife.”

He also challenged the Minister over students’ court challenges, pointing out that appeal courts have described the Home Office evidence as “worthless.”

He was backed up by Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs.

Stuart McDonald, SNP MP, described the issue as a “travesty of justice” and criticised the Home Office for putting the testing company (ETS) under investigation while also asking ETS “to mark its own dodgy homework and recheck the test”.

“There’s an abundance of evidence that a large number were totally innocent,” McDonald said, adding that allowing the students to sit a new test and clear their names if they pass is “the bare minimum that needs to be done to right this wrong.”

Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan pointed out that the government has “lost case after case in the courts” and said the Home Office’s approach had been “driven by the hostile environment and net immigration target”.

The Home Office is again being investigated by the NAO, he said, indicating “a cruel and ineffective handling of immigration cases”.

Wes Streeting MP said that many students had been “left in complete limbo… as a result of being accused wrongly by the British state. When will the British government finally get it together?" 

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes refused to answer questions about the number of cases still outstanding and the number of TOEIC students currently in detention, while insisting that only “a very small number of students” may have been incorrectly accused of cheating. She said the government had taken a “pragmatic approach” to the issue, which we strongly reject.

 

Thank you to all the MPs who challenged the Immigration Minister in the House of Commons today, especially to Stephen Timms MP, who submitted the Urgent Question and has worked tirelessly on this issue for several years.

 

A reminder of what we're calling for 

Those people wrongly accused cannot get the last five years of their life back. But they can have a future. We have been asking the government for three things:

  1. Let the students sit a new Secure English language test.
  2. Clear the names of those who pass and remove the criminal allegations against them.
  3. Give them back the status they lost and grant them enough time to complete their studies.

Read our most recent briefing on this campaign here.

Read press coverage of the campaign here.

Sign the petition to support the students here.

 

TOP IMAGE: Stephen Timms MP, speaking in House of Commons, 30 April 2019, Credit: Parliament TV