Speaking for Ourselves

English test scandal: #MyFutureBack campaign overview

English test scandal: #MyFutureBack campaign overview


 Migrant Voice - English test scandal: #MyFutureBack campaign overview

12 February 2024

Three stories by Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian highlight new evidence that raises questions over Home Office’s cheating accusations against 35,000 international students.

Thousands of students saw their lives destroyed by false allegations of cheating. For a decade international students have been fighting to clear their names after IT errors left them criminalised, separated from family and left in debt. Thousands were unjustly stripped of their right to study.

The articles in the Guardian highlight the devastating impact on the tens of thousands of students, and their fight to clear their names of these false allegations, as well as explain how the issue came about.

Migrant Voice’s #MyFutureBack campaign has helped many international students clear their names from Home Office accusations of cheating in an English-language test.

The students have been fighting for justice for ten years and Migrant Voice has campaigned with a group of them since 2017. 

The issue/Background

In 2014 a BBC Panorama programme revealed cheating on an English language test known as TOEIC at two London test centres by some international students. The UK government placed Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that ran the test at 96 test centres, under criminal investigation, while also asking the company to investigate the allegation. Their investigation suggested that 97% of all tests taken between 2011 and 2014 were suspicious.

As a result of the investigation by ETS, the Home Office suddenly terminated the visas of over 34,000 overseas students, making their presence here illegal overnight. A further 22,000 were told that their test results were “questionable”. More than 2,400 students have been deported.  

Stripped of their right to work, study, rent a house or access healthcare, many became destitute and suffered severe mental health problems. 

Most had no right of appeal in the UK so no way to defend themselves. But those who were able to do so have been fighting expensive, uphill legal battles in a desperate bid to clear their names. 

The court cases have shown that the evidence the Home Office relied on to make the accusations is largely absent – and where it does exist it’s deeply flawed. Students have been accused of cheating in one test centre, though they have proof that they sat the test in another. Others were accused having never sat the test at all.

Many students have now won their cases, but too many others are still in limbo.

Those who have returned home are unable to get good jobs or a place on another course, or a visa to travel due to the mark of “fraud” against their name. Many have been disowned by their families, who simply can’t believe the UK government would treat an innocent person this way.

Migrant Voice has been working with a group of students since 2017. During this time we have worked with them to lobby MPs, initiate newspaper and TV coverage, produce a report, and hold public demonstrations. We have been working to achieve a political solution that can free the students from labyrinthine, expensive legal processes. 

Our #MyFutureBack campaign has led to huge progress. The campaign has pushed the issue onto the Home Office agenda, contributed significantly to shifting the Government’s position on the issue, influenced countless legal cases in favour of the innocent students, and made millions of people in the UK aware of this injustice through substantial media coverage. Through the campaign we have shown the injustice of this blanket criminalisation and the government’s mishandling of this issue. 

Our campaign asks:

  • Simpler process for appeals - introduce a simple, free, and publicly available mechanism for students to apply for a decision on their case or reconsideration;
  • The immigration record of every student who is cleared of cheating must be wiped clean; and universities, employment checking services, and others informed.
  • Facilitate students’ return to study, or support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses - by removing barriers created by the allegation 

Some key campaign moments:

  • 2022: A BBC investigation aired on news bulletins and on Newsnight on 9 February ”has raised fresh doubts about the evidence used to throw thousands of people out of the UK for allegedly cheating in an English language test”. Its findings are based on “whistleblower testimony and official documents obtained by Newsnight that reveal the Home Office has continued to try to remove people based on the claims of the international testing organisation ETS - despite knowing of serious concerns about its conduct and flaws in its data.”
  • 2022: Together with Migrant Voice some of those still affected petitioned the Prime Minister on Tuesday, 21 March, to take action to clear their names.
  • 2019: Migrant Voice acted as the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on TOEIC. We played an instrumental role in producing a report that, as acknowledged by the former Home Secretary, has had a direct impact on the Home Office’s understanding of the TOEIC scandal and possible resolutions. The report has been used in many successful appeals by the students.
  • 2019: Raising the profile of the issue has led to investigations by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the mishandling of the TOEIC scandal, and subsequently the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).  We worked to get 70+ students to submit their own evidence to the latter. The Public Accounts Committee report accused the Government of “shameful” action in not providing a means for innocent students to clear their names. 
  • Launched the film ‘Inquisition’ (produced for us by award-winning filmmaker Tim Langford) in parliament. The launch was attended by over 100 people including legal and education experts, NGOs and journalists, and 10 MPs.
  • Received substantial press coverage across all forms of media, including an in-depth series of articles in The Guardianthe Financial Times, an appearance on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show, a slot on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and on one day having our quotes appear on over 40 media platforms, including national, local and international newspapers and radio and TV stations.
  • The campaign led to the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid shifting his Department’s position on the matter (after five years of resistance), and issuing new guidance for particular circumstances, creating the mechanism for a genuine solution.
  • Supported two students to attend a meeting with the then Immigration Minister Seema Kennedy and Stephen Timms MP, the first time any affected students were able to speak directly with a government minister on this issue. 
  • Indirectly influenced countless tribunal hearings, where the NAO, APPG and PAC reports are now regularly submitted as evidence by students’ lawyers and where our campaign and media coverage are also frequently brought as evidence – leading to dozens of judges now ruling in favour of the students. Several of these students have gone on to receive Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.
  • Helped to heal broken relationships between the students and their families back home, many of whom found it hard to believe that the British Government could be guilty of such a travesty of justice. Students have told us that the campaign has helped those families to see that their children did nothing wrong and are instead the victims of a huge injustice. “I got my mum’s trust back because of this campaign,” one student said. “Because the campaign exists, she now believes that this was really happening to me and I wasn’t lying to her.”
  • Contributed to a significant and positive shift in Home Office policy regarding the amount of leave given to students winning their appeals. When students first started winning their cases they were given a 60-day period in which to apply for a visa - not enough time to find a new University sponsor. The Home Office has now agreed to change its policy and no longer issue anything less than 2.5 years Leave to Remain to students who win their appeals, following a case by the law firm Bindmans.
  • 2020: A letter signed by over 200 of the students was delivered to the Prime Minister and received widespread media coverage (in over 100 local, national and international media). The letter called for a transparent free scheme to be established independent of the Home Office, and for guidance to be issued to all higher education institutions on how to treat TOEIC students. Our letter received a response from the Minister for Future Borders and immigration, Kevin Foster MP, that confirmed that the issue was still being monitored by the Home Office. 
  • We collaborated with Bindmans to launch the ‘TOEIC Justice project’ which will support students to make a joint compensation claim through Bindmans 
  • We have taken the step to intervene in a TOEIC case (RK & DK vs SSHD).The Home Office aimed to use the case to have the 2019 APPG report ruled legally inadmissible to stop it being used in this case and in future cases. The ruling stated that the transcript from the APPG will continue to be admissible in court so the students can continue to use it to help win their cases.

We continue to support the students so they are better informed about the legal processes and opportunities by hosting advice sessions with leading barristers working on TOEIC cases. 

Together with the steering group we continue to evolve the campaign and undertaken ongoing training of students in making their voices heard on this issue.

Get in touch

Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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