Hundreds of overseas students, many of them from India and caught up in a visa row involving compulsory English tests, Thursday won the backing of a cross-party group of British MPs who concluded that the evidence used against the accused was “confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe”.
The students are all embroiled in a scandal of alleged cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), a compulsory requirement in some student visa cases dating back over five years.
An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on TOEIC was set up to look into numerous reports of wrongful accusations of cheating and after conducting a series of evidence sessions in the House of Commons complex in the last few weeks, the APPG released its damning report this week.
“One thing that struck me throughout our hearings was that evidence from Educational Testing Service (ETS) – the basis for denying visas to thousands of overseas students, often with catastrophic effects – quite simply could not be relied upon,” Opposition Labour Party MP and Chair of the APPG Stephen Timms said.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he said.
The report, which calls for the accused students to be given a chance to clear their name, is the latest in a series of efforts being made by the affected students, including taking their appeal directly to UK home secretary Sajid Javid – who is expected to make a statement on the issue in Parliament.
“We welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that he plans to make a statement on this matter before the summer recess (end July), 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,” said Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, which has been campaigning on behalf of the affected students.
“The report does not reflect the findings of the courts, who have consistently found that the evidence of fraud was enough for us to take action,” the UK Home Office said in a statement.
In May, the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s spending watchdog, had concluded in a review that some of the affected students, a majority of them from South Asian countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were wrongly accused and, in some cases, unfairly removed from the UK.
It said that the UK Home Office had not taken enough care to ensure innocent applicants were not caught up in a crackdown launched following evidence of fraud in the system.
The scandal dates back to February 2014, when BBC’s ‘Panorama’ investigation uncovered evidence of organised cheating in two English language test centres run on behalf of the ETS.
This included providing English-speakers to take speaking tests instead of the real candidates and staff reading out multiple choice answers for other tests.
The UK Home Office responded vigorously, investigating colleges, test centres and students and cancelled many visas.