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The Home Office wrongly accused as many as 35,000 students of cheating in 2014 in their mandatory English-language test – a test that international participants must pass in order to obtain a UK visa.
The charity Migrant Voice claims that the Home Office falsely accused the students based on untrustworthy and inconclusive evidence. Campaigners are now rallying for the students’ return to the UK so that they can resit the tests and continue their study.
According to the Home Office, English language tests conducted by the students four-years ago appeared flawed. Officials claim they showed signs demonstrating wide-spread organised fraud. The analysis of the test results displayed 33,725 invalid results while 22,694 came back as questionable. Those fortunate enough to fall in the questionable bracket were permitted to resit the test or attend an interview. The remaining were denied entry into the UK.
Exacerbating the Home Office’s fears, a BBC Panorama programme was aired on British television in February 2014 that provided insight into colleges offering the English language test. Alarm bells started ringing for Home Office officials as the programme suggested systemic cheating was the norm. Officials then declared those who had taken it over a three-year period were unable to continue their study in the UK.
However, the Migrant Voice claims their accusations were unjustified. The Home Office seemingly swept everyone and anyone with the same brush based on scraps of evidence. Some students were accused of cheating on the test in cities they had never even been to. Others who had never even sat the test whatsoever were also among the accused.
These young hopefuls were then treated as immigration criminals despite fulfilling the rest of their Tier 4 Student Visa requirements. On the points-based system for most visa types, just by failing the English language test and life in the UK test means applicants either have to resit the tests before their visa expires, or they face deportation once their visa is revoked. The students that were accused of cheating did not fall shy of such punishments: it has been reported that some of the students were even taken to immigration detention centres where refugees, asylum seekers and criminals that have breached their immigration status are detained for months at a time. Those who weren’t deported stayed in the UK despite being destitute: they have no access to rent a home, work, education or public funding. Many of the students are now in a backlog of debt, borrowing money from friends and family while they await news from the Home Office – even four years on.
Migrant Voice are pushing for a report built on interviews with the affected students. They hope to expose the Home Office for not only revoking their visas but for disregarding these youngsters that are so full of potential. Holding them in detention centres can have detrimental long-term lasting effects on their mental well-being and health. Campaigners are now criticising the government for not only axing young dreams and restricting their opportunities, but for cutting lives short.
The Migrant Voice’s report in the Guardian states that: “The knock-on effect has derailed careers and long-term aspirations. It has pushed people out of work and into poverty and debt. It has forced people out of accommodation. It has had severe impacts on physical and mental health, and family and community relationships.”
The director of Migrant Voice, Nazek Ramadan, criticised the Home Office for executing a “Windrush-style textbook example of thoughtless decision-making”. Ramadan said the “cruel and unfair act of guilty-until-proven-innocent punishment has ruined the hopes, health, dreams, reputations, careers and lives of tens of thousands of students”.
Next week, a campaign will be launched in parliament to clear their names and hopefully welcome the students back into the UK to study.