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Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: No more time for excuses

Editorial: No more time for excuses

MV

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Editorial: No more time for excuses

There seemed to be a tiny spark of hope for thousands of international students at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing on 10 September. Permanent Secretary for the Home Office Matthew Rycroft agreed on camera that his Department should offer a way for students wrongly accused of cheating and wrongly stripped of their visas six years ago to prove their innocence and restart their lives. 

“The Home Office should give innocent people the opportunity to clear their names,” insisted Stephen Timms MP (long-time advocate on this issue) at that hearing. The committee was keen to address the issue following its critical report on the matter last September and the Home Office’s failure to respond to their recommendations.

“Absolutely, I totally agree with that,” responded Rycroft, in what seemed to be a significant and welcome change of tone and approach from a Home Office that has largely refused to take responsibility for wrongly accusing thousands of students of fraud or to find a way to resolve this mammoth injustice.

But the Permanent Secretary continued: “I do think that route is open to them. Individuals have always had the right to challenge through appeal or through Judicial Review.”

With that, the spark of hope went out.

We’re now six years on from a Home Office decision that destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of students who were unfairly accused of cheating on the English test known as TOEIC. Many were innocent and have spent those long years – the last three of them alongside us at Migrant Voice – in a battle to clear their names, all the while banned from working, studying and renting a house, many too ashamed to return to their families bearing a black mark of fraud.

In 2019, there was a brief period of hope – the issue was top of the news agenda with those impacted by the allegations finally being heard as report after report exposed the “shameful” actions of the Home Office and the fundamental flaws in their so-called evidence. Then Home Secretary Sajid Javid even hinted at a possible new scheme to allow students to have their cases reviewed. But with the arrival of a new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, this was shut down – with no explanation as to why – and Home Office officials, including Rycroft, have returned to the over-used and useless argument that innocent students can clear their names through the courts.

But as we, the students and MPs including Stephen Timms have argued tirelessly for years, this route is extortionately expensive (on average, each student has spent £10-15,000, sometimes up to £100,000 fighting their case); inordinately drawn-out (hundreds of students are still fighting their cases more than six years on); and still not guaranteed to succeed. The costs to the Home Office – and therefore to the taxpayer – for fighting each individual case are enormous too.

And what the Home Office is refusing to acknowledge is the clearest possible indication that their actions six years ago were over-hasty and ill-considered: thanks to the investigations by the National Audit OfficeAPPG on TOEIC and PAClast year, most students reaching the final appeal stage are winning, convincing these independent tribunal judges that they did not cheat and that the Government’s evidence against them is insufficient. 

Faced with this fact at the PAC hearing, Rycroft retreated to the well-worn line that “there was evidence of widespread fraud at the time”. Yet this is irrelevant – the evidence he’s talking about has since been exposed as virtually useless and replaced with evidence (in the form of appeal rulings) that many of those accused were innocent.

This refusal to face reality cannot continue. Thousands of these students are still trapped in unending limbo, many trying just to survive as they battle severe depression or face a daily struggle to afford food – a struggle exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19.

“The Home Office should give innocent people the opportunity to clear their names.” We absolutely agree with that too. But we don’t agree that this opportunity already exists. These students need a free and transparent scheme – supported by, but independent of, the Home Office – through which they can get their cases reviewed and clear their names. There is no more time or space for excuses – these students need their futures back.

 

Update: On 24 September, a letter signed by 200+ of the affected students was delivered to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asking him to resolve this matter. A small number of the students demonstrated at Westminster on the same day, calling for justice and their futures back.

Read more about the letter and demonstration here.

Read about media coverage of the day here. 

Read more about Migrant Voice's My Future Back campaign here.