migrantvoice
Speaking for Ourselves

New evidence of hostile behaviour by Home Office against international students

New evidence of hostile behaviour by Home Office against international students

MV

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - New evidence of hostile behaviour by Home Office against international students

On Thursday 18 July, the APPG on TOEIC (All-Party Parliamentary Group on Test of English for International Communication) launched a report that reveals new evidence that the Home Office has taken rash and unnecessarily hostile action against international students accused of cheating on the TOEIC test in 2014, and that key parts of the Department’s response have been covered up.

The report also concludes that the evidence used by the Home Office to revoke the visas of tens of thousands of international students was “confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe”.

The report is the result of four evidence sessions, where affected students, legal experts, technical experts and third sector representatives were questioned by members of the APPG. This included Migrant Voice Director Nazek Ramadan. (Migrant Voice is the Secretariat to the APPG on TOEIC, offering advice and administrative support.)

 

From the foreword by Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the APPG on TOEIC:

“One thing that struck me throughout our hearings was that evidence from ETS – the basis for denying visas to thousands of overseas students, often with catastrophic effects – quite simply could not be relied upon. The inquiry concluded that the evidence used against the students was confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe…

“Some students have – at great cost – managed to clear their names. However, universities still see them as a risk due to the nature of the allegations made against them. As things stand, and without help from the Government, their futures remain bleak. This report sets out crucial steps we believe the Government must now take.”

 

Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice said:

“This report reveals shocking new evidence that the Home Office ignored expert advice, relied on dodgy evidence and took action against students they claimed were treated fairly – and that the Department continues to cover up the full extent of those blunders.

“The result was that tens of thousands of people have spent five years living a nightmare. One student told the APPG that the allegation was like a cancer that had infected his whole family.

“We welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that he plans to make a statement on this matter before the summer recess, and we urge him to read this report and its recommendations before he makes his final decisions. He does have the power to put this right.”

 

Some of the key new findings:

- At a confidential meeting of experts in August 2014, Home Office officials disclosed that they were unsure whether the evidence against the students was robust enough to stand up in court and asked whether it should be “shored up” or “redone”. This was after thousands of students had already had action taken against them on the basis of that evidence. The Home Office ignored the advice of the experts at that meeting and are still refusing to admit publicly that the meeting ever happened.

- The Home Office has relied extensively on a 2016 report by Professor Peter French, which concluded that the rate of “false positives” (individuals wrongly identified as having cheated) in the ETS checking process would be less than 1%. In evidence to the APPG, French stressed that his conclusion was only correct “if the results that ETS had given the Home Office were correct”. As detailed in the report, all of the experts questioned the reliability of those results, casting significant doubt on the usefulness of that statistic, used so heavily by the Home Office in their defence. French also cautioned against using his conclusion to argue that any particular student cheated, an approach the Home Office has used consistently.

- The Home Office has repeatedly insisted that ‘questionable’ students – those who may have cheated, according to the ETS evidence – had no action taken against them without being offered the chance to sit a new test. New evidence reveals that lists of students accused of cheating sent by the Home Office to institutions where they were enrolled did not distinguish between ‘invalid’ and ‘questionable’ students. They were all thrown out and therefore liable to removal from the UK.

- According to one lawyer – who has dealt with around 100 TOEIC cases – the Government “pioneered a process that made it as difficult” as possible for those accused of TOEIC fraud to clear their names, said Barrister Michael Biggs. They were left with “no effective remedy”.

- The Chair (Home Office official Peter Millington) of a working group designed to support students indirectly impacted by the TOEIC allegations refused to send a letter from members of the group raising concerns about the lack of support being offered “on the basis that he couldn’t write such a letter to his boss”. The concerns were never addressed and, before its termination just a few months later, the group helped just 300 out of 68,000 affected students.

- Students who have won their cases are still being denied access to UK education institutions, with rulings in their favour not regarded as “clear judgements” and their immigration records seen as a threat to the institution’s licence. At least one university has also refused help to a former student wrongly accused of cheating on the basis that to do so would be a threat to their licence.

 

The recommendations:

1. There must be no further detentions or forced removals of students accused of cheating in a TOEIC test;

2. People who lost their visas because ETS accused them of cheating should be allowed to sit a new, secure English language test, and, if they pass, their previous visa status (or today’s equivalent) should be restored without charge, valid for at least 12 months;

3. The immigration record of every person who passes the new test should make clear that the allegation of cheating no longer stands;

4. Higher and further education institutions should be advised that the TOEIC allegation, and related issues such as a break in studies, should be wholly disregarded in assessing applications from these students;

5. A working group should be established to support students and facilitate their return to study, to support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses, and to monitor this support process, with representatives from Home Office, UKVI, Department of Education, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UCAS, relevant third sector and student support organisations, and students themselves;

6. Financial support should be provided to enable students who lost their fees as a result of a TOEIC allegation to complete their studies;

7. The Home Office should work with High Commissions in relevant countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, to ensure that those who have returned home or been forcibly removed are informed about these arrangements.

 

Read the full report here.