It was reported on Wednesday (22 Mar) that a group of foreign students, many of whom were from India, have delivered a petition to British PM Rishi Sunak asking him to retract an “unjust” visa revocation order, requiring the students to leave the UK.
The petition was delivered to 10 Downing Street on Monday (20 Mar).
The order to revoke their visa came following an English test scandal which erupted about a decade ago. The issue dates back to 2014 when a BBC ‘Panorama’ investigation showed that cheating had occurred at two of the UK’s testing centres for the compulsory English language test required for securing their student visas.
At the time, the UK government responded by a widespread crackdown on such centres, revoking tens of thousands of students’ visas linked with those centres.
“This is one of the biggest scandals in contemporary British history. The initial government reaction was unjust and has been allowed to drag on for years,” said Nazek Ramadan who is the director of Migrant Voice, an NGO representing the students.
“It could have been resolved by a simple solution, such as allowing the tests to be retaken. The students came here to get a world-class education and the best student experience in the world, but instead their lives have been wrecked. It is time for the government to step in and end this nightmare. All it takes to bring this to an end is leadership.”
More than 2,400 students have been deported and thousands returned home voluntarily as they have no right to stay, work or appeal. But some continued to stay on hoping to “clear their names” through legal means.
Migrant Voice said it’s important for Sunal to address “the injustice at a time when numbers of students and migrant workers form part of UK-India trade negotiations”.
Migrant Voice has been running the #MyFutureBack campaign for the affected students for years, trying to get them to stay in the UK.
Massive exam frauds uncovered by BBC
In 2014, BBC followed a tip-off that bogus students who spoke virtually no English were being offered “guaranteed” Toeic (English) exam passes at two London test centres.
An undercover journalist secretly filmed an exam in East London where test centre staff provided every candidate with a paid cheat, or proxy, who spoke good English. The tests were then uploaded to international testing organisation ETS in the United States for marking.
After discovering evidence of student cheating, the government tasked ETS with assessing the extent of the problem in over 100 independent test centres.
During the investigation, the findings were startling: 97% of 58,000 Toeics taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014 were judged suspicious – 33,663 were invalid and 22,476 questionable. It would probably be considered the largest exam cheat in British history.
Lord Willetts, universities minister in 2014, said although the 97% figure was “implausibly high”, officials believed them. “The Home Office assumed this whole thing was totally abused and corrupt, and so they didn’t get into the details,” he said. That is to say, some believe that not all the students cheated.
The names of individuals with invalid tests were shared by ETS with the Home Office, which subsequently revoked their visas, some of whom were innocent.
In 2017, individuals in Toeic cases were granted the right to appeal in the UK.
In 2016, two years after the deportations began, ETS began providing alleged cheaters with their test recordings.
The case involving Shakil Rathore, a 50-year-old civil engineer, has raised concerns about how many people may have been wrongfully accused of cheating on their UK visa English tests.
After struggling for three years to obtain his test recording, Mr Rathore was able to prove his innocence when it revealed his distinct stutter.
However, most people who received test recordings found they did not contain their voice, and digital forensics expert Professor Peter Sommer noted that the voice files were not verifiable.
Many individuals waited years for their appeals to be heard, during which time they faced visa revocation and deportation.