A British parliamentary panel has launched an inquiry after an immigration tribunal ruled as unlawful the deportation of nearly 48,000 non-EU students – most of them Indians – for allegedly passing a mandatory English language test fraudulently.
In a damning ruling in March, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) allowed an appeal by two students accused of cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) conducted by a subsidiary of US-based ETS.
Senior Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs committee of parliament, called it a “devastating verdict” and told the Home Office at a hearing on Tuesday that a full inquiry had been opened into the issue that led to thousands of innocent individuals being branded as cheats and deported.
It began in February 2014, when a sting operation by BBC’s Panorama programme uncovered cheating, including the use of proxies to impersonate candidates in speaking and listening tests, and invigilators at a London centre providing answers.
The Home Office reacted by claiming its own investigation after the programme had revealed 46,000 invalid and questionable tests conducted by ETS, and suspended the company.
Extrapolating fraud uncovered in one London centre by the programme, the Home Office revoked the sponsorship licence of 60 institutions and detained or removed thousands of non-EU students and migrants who had obtained the TOEIC certificate at different centres. The actions affected genuine students who had not cheated.
Harsev Bains of the Indian Workers Association told Hindustan Times: “Seventy per cent of the 48,000 affected were Indians. Due to their personal and national humiliation, many left of their own accord, the majority were deported.
“The biggest disappointment was this was not briefed or highlighted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his (November) visit. I certainly hope the students will be adequately compensated. However, I would not be surprised if they choose not to come back to the UK after the way they were disgracefully treated.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed by the decision and are awaiting a copy of the full determination to consider next steps, including an appeal. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”