NAOs report: Home Office have forcibly removed innocent students from the UK after being accused of cheating during English language tests

The National Audit Office, NAO, published a report on the results of an investigation of fraud during English language tests, which were used for visa purposes, namely in order to obtain Tier 4 visas. In 2014, BBC Panorama published a video from several testing centres showing obvious systematic fraudulent actions of students while sitting TOEIC exam (Test of English for International Communication). Following the scandalous video Home Office together with Educational Testing Service (ETS) started investigation and accused more than 34,000 foreign students of cheating while taking English tests. ETS classified 97% of UK tests conducted between 2011 and 2014 as suspicious, 58% as invalid and 39% as questionable. As a result, Home Office withdrew about 30,000 visas of foreign citizens, more than 2,400 students were deported from the country, tens of thousands were accused of fraud, and 89 educational institutions lost their Tier 4 Sponsor licenses. Twenty-five people were convicted of criminal offenses for fraud, and another fourteen could be charged. Home Office demonstrated rather aggressive approach to resolve the scandal. This affected tens of thousands of people, many of whom said they were innocent.

NAO began its investigation in early 2019 after it became clear that almost 34,000 foreign students were accused of fraud in English tests without the right to challenge the decision. The report states that the fraud was “large-scale and organised”, but the likelihood that innocent people could be deported was also high. The NAO claims that, although the Home Office acted “vigorously” to deal with perpetrators, officials did not show “equally vigorous” approach to protect those who were innocent, but were involved in the situation in one way or another. The NAO expressed concern about Home Office actions towards TOEIC students, as it is likely that some of the victims were not only unfairly considered fraudsters, but also lost tuition fees and were unfairly deported from the UK without having opportunity to challenge the decision and protect themselves. Students at the colleges that had their licences revoked were affected irrespective of whether they sat TOEIC or another English language test.

According to the NAO, about 3,700 people accused of fraud with TOIEC won appeals at the First Tier Tribunal. At present, the NAO cannot precisely estimate, how many innocent people were mistakenly identified as fraudsters. To date the Home Office has considered its evidence sufficient to tell people that the number of people wrongly affected would be very small, and that they can appeal from outside the UK or lodge a Judicial Review.

Posted on May 28, 2019.

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